Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Duluth, Minnesota
12:13 P.M. EST
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hey, everybody. Okay. So, today, the President and the First Lady are traveling to Superior, Wisconsin, to discuss build — building a better America and how the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law delivers for the American people by rebuilding roads and bridges, and creating good-paying union jobs.
As the President said last night, we’re done talking about infrastructure week; we are moving into infrastructure decade.
Thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we will see historic investments in infrastructure that will create a visible impact in the lives of American families across the country for years to come.
Today, the President will visit the Blantnik — Blatnik — hopefully I said that right — Bridge — excuse me, for the Wis- — folks from Wisconsin — a bridge that serves as a critical link for the community and local economy but is nearing the end of its usable life.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law includes a total of $40 billion in funding to repair, rehabilitate, and replace bridges. Over the next year, states will start repair on over 1,500 bridges.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law also supports a number of projects in the region, including restoring the St. Louis River and Great Lakes, investing in port infrastructure for the Port of Superior, and help improve climate resilience in the region.
Last night — just a little bit more about last night — you heard the President speak directly to the American people about his vision to build a better America, where he laid out the progress of the — of last year in the face of deep challenges; the character, courage, and resilience of the American people; and his optimism for the future; and his resounding belief that it’s never a good bet to bet against the American people.
He sent clear a message to the world: The U.S. and our Allies are united against Russia’s aggression, and that Putin’s war of choice has already had devastating impacts on the Russian economy. For those here at home and abroad, democracy will prevail over autocracy.
He also laid out the economic strategy of his administration, which is producing historic results, which his plan — with his plan to lower costs for American families while continuing an historically strong economic recovery.
The President also talked about how he — how we have entered a new phase in our battle against COVID-19 where, because of the tools we have, we are moving safely to our normal routines.
He also discussed his Unity Agenda for this country and reminded Congress there are lots of places the two parties do agree. And they should — they shouldn’t let politics get in the way of getting those things done for the American public.
With that, Darlene, what you got for me?
Q Yes, thank you. The President’s announcement last night about banning Russian flights from U.S. airspace: Do you have any more details on that, in terms of when does it go into effect? Did it go into effect last night with his announcement or some date in the future? The number of flights we’re talking about? Those kinds of details.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Sure. So we are issuing orders blocking Russian aircraft and airlines from entering and using all domestic U.S. airspace, effectively closing U.S. airspace to all Russian commercial air carriers and other Russian aircraft — civil aircraft.
Just to give you a little bit of update: Russia’s national airline, Aero- — Aeroflot has — has about 14 flights to the U.S. a week, in addition to private — private planes and cargo planes as well.
Q And is that effective now or —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Let’s see. I do have something on that.
So, at the moment, the Department of Transportation and its Federal Aviation Administration are issuing orders today blocking Russian aircraft and airlines from entering and using all domestic U.S. airspace.
Q And then on a related Russia question: Yesterday, the governor of Oklahoma and also Senator Rob Portman called on the President to do two things. They are interested in seeing the United States sanction Russia’s oil and gas industry. And at the same time, they also would like to see the Biden administration increase domestic oil production. Senator Wyden also would like to see the U.S. increase domestic oil production.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So here’s what I have for you on that: As we have said, we’re intentionally — we — we have intentionally scoped our sanctions measures to maximize pain on the Russian economy and minimize any spillover to the U.S. and our Allies and
Given high oil and gas prices, cutting — cutting off Russian oil/gas will drive prices up to Putin’s benefit. We carved out energy-related payments to allow for orderly transition of these flows away from sanction institutions. And we will provide other licenses as necessary.
President Biden has been very clear with the American people that because of Putin’s reckless and dangerous sanctions, this won’t be painless, as he has said before, as I just mentioned. But we are closely monitoring energy supplies for any disruption and continuing to coordinate with major oil-producing consumers, producers to protect American businesses and consumers, including from rising prices at the pump.
And that’s why he announced, last night, the International Energy — Energy Agency to release 60 million — million barrels of oil around the world. And that’s what he did last night.
Thirty of those million will be our share. And so this is — this is in partnership with what we’ve done. So this is, if you think about what he did in the fall, it was like a record 50 million barrels that we — that we’ve tapped into — into the SPR. And we were able to do that with China, Japan, India, South Korea, and the United Kingdom. The International Energy Agency is 30 members. So this is — you know, this is what we’re able to do.
So the President has a plan for addressing the real impacts to people’s pocketbooks. I can give you a little bit more on what the — what that’s going to look like, because we have some updates here.
So we put out — as far as the SPR, we put out the notice today to begin the bidding process — usually, it takes about 13 days for buyers — like major gas companies, Exxon Mobil, Chevron — or gas-trading entities to bid and win the millions of barrel — barrels released as part of our SPR.
By April or May, the crude oil will make the way out of the pipeline, get to a refinery to be made into gas; gas prices will decline thanks to the SPR release because there is an additional supply of oil coming. Price will stop — go up due to — will —
Sorry, it’s getting a little bumpy. Hold on, everybody.
— price — price will still go up due to conflict in Russia but less than it would have because of the agreement with the IEA — again, 30 members — helps countries around the world, not just USA.
And if you look at what we did with the SPR back in the fall, it brought down — they brought down prices by 10 — more than 10 cents a gallon over the holiday season. So we’re optimistic.
Q So does — Karine, just to follow up on sanctions. Jen said this morning in some of her television interviews that sanctions against Russian oil and gas was on the table. And the President, I believe, echoed the same thing when he spoke to reporters before coming to JBA. But it sounds, from what you just said, like that is very unlikely. Is there — can you just explain that discrepancy?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. And you must have been very early if you saw Jen this morning. You must have been up very early if you saw this morning, with Darlene. (Laughs.)
Okay. So, look, we don’t have a strategic interest in reducing the global supply of energy. So you’ve heard Jen talk about that — the effect of what would happen with the global supply here. So that would raise prices at the gas pump for Americans and pad Putin’s profits, right? So that’s something that we’re very aware of.
We’ve seen some American companies decide to cut ties with Russia, and we welcome those announcements. But, you know, we and our Allies and partners have a strong collective interest to degrade Russia status as a leading energy supplier over time.
That’s why we’ve been talking about, you know, diversification, you know, and that’s why we shut down Nord Stream 2. That’s why we’re helping to accelerate Europe’s diver- — diversification from Russian gas. And that’s why we’re denying critical technology inputs that Russia needs to sustain its production capacity in oil and gas.
So that’s kind of our strategic focus at the moment.
Q There has to be at least some acknowledgement of the irony of the United States and Western countries sanctioning Russia but continuing to buy its fuel.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I mean, here’s the thing: Again, there’s the global supply of energy that we really have to think about. We don’t want to pad Putin’s — Putin’s profits. And we want to make sure that we don’t raise prices on the American public.
So that is our focus here. And so we’re doing everything that we can. I think that’s why we talked about diversification — make sure we’re not just relying on that source, on Russia’s oil.
So we’re going to continue to work on that. We’ve been assisting our European partners. And that’s going to be our focus right now.
Q One other sanctions question. Can you confirm that the United States is preparing additional sanctions against Russian oligarchs and others in Russia?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I don’t have any anything to preview at this time. As you know, we’re going after Russian oligarchs and their families supporting Putin’s war of choice.
But, you know, look, Russia has become a global economic and financial pariah. Over 30 countries, representing well over half the world’s economy, have announced sanctions and export controls on Russia. Putin’s government is getting kicked off the international financial system. We are preventing Putin from accessing his war chest to soften the blow of our sanctions and support his invasion of Ukraine.
This week, alongside our Allies and partners, we announced unprecedented actions to prevent President Putin from accessing his war chest. We prohibited transactions with Central Bank of Russia, the single most important financial institution in Russia.
And you know, again, we’ve done this with our partners and Allies. And so that’s — that’s going to be what we’re going to continue to do: work — work in lockstep with European Allies.
Q Are more in the works? That’s my question. Are more —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have anything to predict at this time.
Q Karine, can we ask you just to move in a little bit, maybe? Just to get — sorry. Getting lost in the doorway.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The bumpiness —
Q I know. I know. It’s a little hard to hear you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I know, and I have a mask. I’m so sorry, guys. I will do my best.
Q Last night, during the speech, we didn’t hear the President talk explicitly about Build Back Better. And is that the message he’s sending — that it’s officially dead right now on Capitol Hill?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, absolutely not. You know, he — what the President did last night is he highlighted the major part of his plans — right? — to fight inflation — in addition to continuing work to make more in America, bring more jobs back from overseas, and strengthen our supply chains — is by lowering costs and lowering the deficit.
This is what he’s been talking about the past several months, about these very popular pieces of components. And so he will cut the cost of prescription drugs, energy, childcare, while making the tax system more fair.
He had the young — young kid, Joshua, that he met when we went to Ohio, who’s 13 years old, and they talked about lowering costs of prescription drugs. He has Type 1 diabetes, so does his dad. The cost of insulin is — has skyrocketed.
It costs companies $10 — insulin — insulin — to make. But, you know, what the companies do is they — they double — they raise that 30 — almost 30 times more. And so, what we’re trying to talk about is lowering those costs.
And so, you know, by contrast, Republicans are against lowering costs for families because they want to protect tax cuts for the very wealthy and corporations.
That’s how we build on the manufacturing resurgence we’ve — we’ve overseen and historic job creation we’ve achieved last year, which the President leaned on when talking about the American Rescue Plan meeting the moment and that — what that was able to do.
So we’re having constructive conversations with a range of members. But I’ll keep those conversation private, as we’ve been trying to do these last couple of weeks, couple of months now. And I’m not going to go comment into specific lawmakers —
Q But as to the parts of that last night, as you just went through, and you’re having conversations with lawmakers. But Senator Manchin said last night that he has not been — the White House hasn’t reached out to him for any formal conversations about the parts of Build Back Better that the President would like to see passed. Why not have those conversations with Senator Manchin? And when would they happen?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, you’ve heard Jen say this, you’ve heard me say this: We’re just not going to negotiate in public.
We are having conversation with members who are very much enthused and excited about what the President’s plan is and lowering costs, as I just laid out. And so that’s what we’re going to — going to do.
I mean, the President used the State of the Union as an opportunity to talk about his plan, to talk about lowering costs. And so, clearly, that is something that’s very important to him.
He also talked about — and when you think about those items I just laid out — prescription drugs, the things that — you know, that are important at the kitchen table — those are popular. Right? Those are really important. That’s part of, like, his Unity Agenda as well that he laid out yesterday as well. You know, like, we can work in a bipartisan way for the American people and deliver.
Q Is the President still making calls directly to members about the items in Build Back Better or the package formerly called Build Back Better? Or is that White House aides or other senators that are doing that outreach?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, Nancy, I don’t have any calls to preview about the President’s di- — directly speaking to members. You saw him speaking to members on the floor yesterday. He does have conversation pretty regularly. Former senator — he has a lot — he knows a lot of those folks — former Vice President, clearly.
And so — but I don’t have anything to preview. But I can assure you that White House — my colleagues at the White House have been in regular contact and in regular touch with folks on the Hill.
Q What is the White House’s — what’s the status on the Iran deal? My colleagues overseas are hearing that a decision is coming one way or the other in the coming days, and I just wonder what you could tell us about where that stands.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. So, you know, we are in the final stages of complex negotiations. As we’ve been saying, at this final stage, all participants are working to clarify their position on the most difficult issues. You know, I’m not going to go into any specific on the positions of Iran or the United States.
You know, the administration continues to consult with the P5+1, as well as with Israel and our regional partners, on the best way to move forward. But I would refer you to the State Department.
Q And just one more question on Russia. In terms of Putin, what other steps is the White House or administration considering on how they would target his wealth personally?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have anything more to add. I know the President was asked this when he was headed towards Air Force One, going on Marine One. I don’t have anything more specific or thing — anything to predict for you.
Look, you know, we have said this over and over again, which is: This is a — we have never seen such a unified West. We are very unified with our European leaders and part- — European partners and Allies. And NATO is — our NATO Alliance is also more unified than we’ve ever seen it before in history.
And so, you know, we are going to continue to work in lockstep and as we — as we move forward in trying to — you know, in trying to deal with this Russia aggression that we’re seeing. I mean, we — you know, we have to — I’m going to keep saying this: Russia is — you know, aggression with Ukraine — is attacking their territorial integrity, their sovereignty, their democracy. And that’s one thing that the President talked about yesterday: what our values are and fighting for democracy here and abroad.
Q Karine, does the White House have a position on Americans who might, on their own, travel to Ukraine to answer President Zelenskyy’s call to join the fight?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So — so Ukrainians have shown their courage, and they are calling on every — you know, they’re calling on every resource and lever they have to defend themselves. You know, we applaud their bravery.
However, our travel advisory remains. U.S. citizens should not travel to Ukraine.
Q And so that would specifically include — is that advice to Americans to not go and fight in another nation?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Again, the State Department has — issues travel advisories and warnings to help Americans make the most informed decisions about their safety. So that’s what I would refer you to.
Q Have you got a reaction to Sergey Lavrov’s latest nuclear saber-rattling? He said that World War Three would be “nuclear and destructive.”
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, again, you know, this is — this is a war of choice by President Putin. This is his decision that he has made. We are going to continue to work with our European Allies, our European partners, you know, and do — do that in lockstep. But this is — this is President Putin’s war that he has started.
Q Karine, the President did not mention January 6th last night. Was that a conscious decision to exclude that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, the President has talked about January 6th many times. And he has spoken about it — about the horrific events of January 6th, as well as the specific steps we must take to ensure something like that can never happen again, including move — moving — movingly in the Capitol itself to commemorate one year since the attack. That’s ju- — the anniversary that just passed — this past January 6th.
And the President spoke last night about the need to uphold Constitution, protect democracy both here and around the world, as I just stated.
Q (Inaudible.) There’s an effort in North Carolina to throw Madison Cawthorn off the ballot for being an insurrectionist. Has the President given that approach any thought? Does he endorse that? What does he think about people who encouraged that to be able to run again?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I leave that the — the decision — or refer you to the state board of elections. That’s for them to decide.
Q Karine, we haven’t seen —
Q Karine, a couple on COVID. Last night, the President talked about entering a new phase or new moment in the pandemic. A lot of the lawmakers and people who were at the State of the Union obviously didn’t wear a mask because the guidance has changed. Does the President now think that it’s safe for children in school to go mask-free indoors, in school also?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, you know, today the Biden administration released a National COVID Preparedness Plan, as you all know. This is a plan to keep America moving forward safely and keep getting us back to our normal routines.
It’s a plan that focuses on three key goals, which is protect against COVID-19, prepare for new variants, prevent economic and educational shutdowns.
First, on protection: Unlike at the start of the pandemic, we know — we now — pardon me — have multiple tools to protect ourselves. Right? There’s vaccines, treatments, test, masks.
Second, we’re preparing for new variants. That includes early warning signs and stockpiling resources.
Third, preventing economic and educational shutdowns. We will continue to be an arsenal of vaccines for the world. I think we’ve already donated just under 500 million vaccines.
Throughout this plan, we ensure we are protecting the most vulnerable, including the immun- — immunocompromised and those with disabilities. The immunocompromise have — -compromised have access to a fourth booster and priority access to new treatments.
We have free high-quality masks and more free tests than ever before.
We’re launching a comprehensive response to prevent, treat, and better under — understand Long COVID and to address mental health.
Executing this plan will require additional congressional funding, which you heard the President talk about last night — that supplemental funding — soon. And so, the administration will send Congress a request for additional funding, given that virtually all Americans have used these tools and may want to, again, expect Congress — we expect Congress to pass it quickly.
Jeff Zients, Secretary Becerra, Dr. Walensky, and Dr. Fauci — they all briefed on — to your colleagues earlier today, about an hour ago. And so, that’s kind of where we are. But to your question, Darlene — I just wanted to kind of lay that out.
Q Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You know, to your question: As we’ve always said, those decisions are left to the school — the school districts and to the schools to make. You know, we’ve always said: Follow — you know, follow the experts, listen to the experts. And we try to follow the CDC guidance.
Q And then one more. Again, last night, you had a situation where people are free to go mask free, and a lot of them did that last night, but then you saw people sitting in a socially distant fashion. So was there kind of a mixed message there where, on the one hand, the President says to people, “You know, we’re in a new phase. Go back to work. Flood downtown again,” but you have people sitting socially distant (inaudible)?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: To that — to that in particular, that was a Cap- — that’s the Capitol. I refer you to them. That was —
Q So I fully understand it was a decision by the Capitol. But just the image overall and what that says to people as we’re telling them, “It’s okay to go mask-free again.”
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, what I’ll say to that — look, we are in a different place than we are — than we were a year ago, and that’s just the fact.
When the President walked into the administration, he was dealing with multiple crises. The economy and COVID were the two main ones that were front and center. And in that time — in that year’s time, the President has been able to — along with his team has been able to fully vaccinate more than 210 million people.
And so, that is a success that we can all be proud of. And like — as I just laid out, we know — we now have the tools that help us figure out how to move forward and get to a place where things are more normal.
So, this is just, you know, a next part of the process. And so, you know, again, we’re going to follow the CDC guidance — guidelines.
(The plane experiences turbulence.)
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Ah! (Laughs.) We almost lost Jeff Mason. My goodness. He has his cool Reuters jacket on, too.
Q Karine, for the President personally last night — he hasn’t had an event like that where you had that many people in one space not wearing masks, and he seemed to be feeding off of that a bit. Can you talk about how he felt afterwards about being in an environment that we haven’t seen him in in maybe two years?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: As we all know, the President loves to communicate directly with people. And, you know, as we’ve been saying for the past week or so, the State of the Union was an opportunity to talk to millions of Americans. It’s once-in-a year opportunity to do that.
And so, you know — and this is a President who was a senator for almost four decades, who was a vice president for eight years. He’s been in that room, and he knows what it means to have that bully pulpit, if you will, to have that — to have that microphone.
And so, his goal yesterday was to talk about the — this past year — yes, the challenges, but how we’ve been able to be resilient and how the economy has thrived, where we are with COVID, but also the challenges that lie ahead; our support, clearly, for Ukraine with Russia’s aggression into the country — attacking their sovereignty — but also how we’re going to speak to those kitchen table issues that Americans deal with every day — those high costs. And also, he talked about his Unity Agenda.
So, there was a lot that he covered. But, look, like I said, that — yesterday was an opportunity, which he understood very well, that — you know, to reach out to — directly to the American public. And he was happy to see some of his former colleagues and have that direct conversation.
Q Is the President — will he resume large, indoor maskless gatherings now? Is that what we can expect moving forward?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You know, I don’t — as we all know, the CDC guidance is — it all depends on the area that you’re in. Like we are about to land in Wisconsin. We’re going to Superior, Wisconsin, as you all know, and we have to wear a mask because it is a red zone.
So, it is really going to, you know, depend on where we are and what we — the CDC guidance that we need to follow for that particular area.
Q Does the President have a reaction to the interruption last night by the — I think it was two Republican congresswomen right around the time when he was talking about his son?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. So, you know, we grieve alongside these Gold Star families. We do not pretend to understand the depths of their grief, but we respect their concerns and their unique perspectives about the loss of their loved ones. So, they were part of the bravest, most capable, and the most selfless military on the face of the Earth.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right.
Q I actually wasn’t — I wasn’t actually asking about Gold Star families. I was asking about the —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: One of the members actually —
Q Was that Boebert?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. She was — yeah, that’s what she was talking about.
Q I see. I thought she said, “Build the wall.”
Q There was someone else that shouted “Build the wall,” I think.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It might’ve been someone else. Yeah.
Q I have one final question for you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. Go ahead.
Q Is there — are you aware of any reaction or comment from the President to Major League Baseball’s decision to cancel Opening Day?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I do have something on that. So collective bargaining is a private dispute-resolution process in which the parties to the negotiation work out their differences and agree to the terms and conditions of employment.
The Major League Baseball negotiations are a matter for the players, the league, and the owners. Baseball fans may have some opinions as well. We leave that to them.
The best role for government is to encourage the parties to comment — to commit themselves fully to collective bargaining that reaches an agreement. And that’s how we feel here.
We encourage Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association to stay at the bargaining table and reach an agreement as soon as they can so we can kick off the season and get back to enjoying baseball games.
Q Thanks, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you.
12:41 P.M. EST