James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

3:24 P.M. EDT

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  Hello, everyone.   Good afternoon.  So, today we have a very special guest, a friend of the briefing room returning today.  You all know National Economic Council Director Brian Deese.  Brian is joining us to give some brief comments and answer some questions on the President’s actions today to respond to Putin’s price hike by increasing the supply of oil and achieving lasting American energy independence. 

So, I’m going to turn it over to Brian, who’s going to make some comments, and then we’ll take some of your questions.

MR. DEESE:  Thank you, Kate.  Just wanted to say thank you, Kate.  (Laughter.)

So, I just wanted to give a little bit of additional background on a couple of the elements of what the President announced today and then happy to take your questions. 

The first is on the release of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.  As you all just heard from the President, he today authorized the largest release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in American history: 1 million barrels a day for six months.  And I just want to give you a little bit of context.

First, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve itself is our national asset to deal with emergency supply disruptions in energy markets.  There’s currently 568 million barrels in the reserve, which is actually in four locations across southern Louisiana and Texas. 

And the President authorized this reserve under his extraordinary emergency powers associated with supply disruptions, which we have seen in the market are associated with Putin’s unjustified actions and the reaction from the United States and alliesin the world in no longer purchasing Russian oil. 

The scale of the release is unprecedented — so, a million barrels a day — and the duration is also unprecedented — six months.  The duration is — was really designed and calibrated to operate as a bridge — a medium-term bridge to the period where we anticipate and expect U.S. production to come back online. 

The — most estimates based on commit- — commitments by companies are that we will see an additional million barrels a day from U.S. industry by about the end of the third quarter of this year.  So, this — the time period operates as a bridge until then.

And the amount — a million barrels today — is unprecedented but feasible based on the technical capabilities  of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve itself. 

We also know there is significant demand in the market.  We are operating in a supply-constrained market.  That is the core challenge that is addressed — that has driven prices up.  But we saw for example, the last — the last sale that the Strategic Petroleum Reserve conducted was oversubscribed by about two and a half times.  So there is demand out there in the market. 

The last thing that I would say is that a very important element of the President’s announcement today was that the President authorized the sale but also the commitment to repurchase oil.  And that will happen in coming years at a lower price. 

And that’s important for two reasons.  One is, yeah, it provides that bridge to — during this period of extraordinary supply constraint.  But it also provides stability to the market in the future that there will be a buyer to purchase oil at a lower price. 

And it also allows us to actually maintain and increase the resilience of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve over the long term.  We will be refilling the reserve.  And if we’re buying at a lower price, we’ll actually be in a position to refill at a — more barrels, ultimately.  So, the current 568 million barrels will come down but then will go back up, and that’s how the reserve functions. 

Secondly, just briefly, I wanted to touch on the presidential directive that the President signed today authorizing the Defense Production Act for usage for the critical materials that go into large-capacity batteries. 

So, the President took this action under Title 3 of the Defense Production Act, which provides for prioritizing and subsidizing the production domestically of key inputs that are critical to the national defense. 

So, the Secretary of Defense has undertaken a study and identified that large-capacity batteries are critical to the national defense — and the components that go into them, including lithium and nickel, cobalt, graphite, manganese.  My guess is that’s the first time in the White House briefing room someone has said “manganese.”  (Laughter.)

These are critical minerals.  And we are currently vulnerable to unreliable supply chains, which affects our national security.  It also affects our economic security as well. 

So, taking — by taking this action, the President is authorizing the government to use the DPA authorities to build domestic production capability in these key materials.  And this is going to be a key driver for building a domestically resilient supply chain to build large-capacity batteries — those are the batteries that go into electric vehicles, but also used for storage in other applications — and also to accelerate what the President talked about today of how we move to true energy independence by reducing our dependence on oil, the amount of oil that we consume, and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. 

So, those are — those are two.  We — the President touched on other issues as well I’m happy to take questions all about, but I wanted to put a little bit more context on those two. 

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  Great. 

We’ll start with Kristen.

Q    Great.  Kate, thank you. 

Two questions, Brian.  Thank you for being here.  One, to the figure “1 million barrels per day” and to the skepticism that that sounds unrealistic, why should Americans have confidence that you’re going to be able to meet that benchmark on a daily basis?  And when can Americans expect to actually see the price of gas come down?

MR. DEESE:  So, on the first one, the Department of Energy’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve have now committed, per the President’s direction, to release a million barrels a day into the market. 

Number one, we have the full operational capacity to do that.  As I mentioned, there are actually four locations that make up the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.  For purposes of this release, we will be releasing from all four of those locations. 

If you look at the actual operational capacity across all four of them, it is actually up to 4 million barrels a day in operational capacity.  So, actually executing a million barrels a day is well within the operational constraints.  And a big part of that is because a lot of that moves by pipeline, and so they — to established offtake points.  That’s point number one.

Point number two: There’s been some question about will there be sufficient market interest or sufficient demand, including on the transport side.  And I would say there that the most — the best indicator is what just happened in the market when — in the last — the last sale that the SPR tendered was two and a half times oversubscribed. 

So, certainly, there is significant demand in the market and that you would expect because supply is constrained and prices are high.  So, we fully expect that the Strategic Petroleum Reserve will execute against this, per the President’s direction.

To your question about the timing of — of the impact, we’ve already seen — and as we came in here, you know, oil is trading down about 6 percent today — but the way that we think about this is in terms of supply and the market constraint.

And so, the supply in the global market — obviously, the price of oil is set at the global — at the margin, the global market.  The global supply is down because of Russian oil. 

The million barrels a day plus what our allies and partners are intending to deliver — and there’s a — there is a meeting tomorrow morning of the International Energy Agency in Paris, an emergency meeting. 

And I won’t get ahead of the specific commitments in that context, but as the President said, we’re confident that our allies and partners will provide tens of millions of barrels additional into the market. 

So, we’re looking at well in excess of a million barrels a day of additional supply onto the market for an — importantly for several months — that that is the most ambitious, aggressive, historic effort to try to replace supply in the short term. 

So, certainly, there is uncertainty about pricing, and lots of different factors affect price across time, but we — we are confident that this is about the largest effort that oil — that countries with oil reserves have ever taken to supply the market in this way. 

Q    And could prices come down in a matter of days or weeks?  I know it’s difficult to pinpoint, but just for Americans who budget based on how much they have to spend on gasoline, what should they be bracing for?

MR. DEESE:  Well, the — as the President spoke to today, that is uncertain.  And so, you know — and being — being very clear, the market price is impossible to predict with certainty.

One thing that I will say for sure is that as the price of oil comes down, it’s incredibly important that the — that it flows through to the consumer, in terms of the price of gas, as quickly as feasible.  We’ve seen that be a problem in the past, and it’s definitely an issue that we are focused on. 

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  Justin.

Q    Hey, Brian.  I have two.  One is — to follow on, I think, what you just said, which is — you’ve identified there’s been a problem between crude oil prices and what folks are paying at the pump, and laid some of the blame for that at oil companies in the past.

The President today, in his remarks, spoke to some extent about how there were good actors and bad actors in terms of folks who are ramping up production right now versus the folks who are sort of banking profit. 

So, I wanted to give you an opportunity — for Americans who want to do the patriotic thing, where should they be going to buy their gas right now?  Are there — are there good companies that have worked with the administration and folks that you’re frustrated with right now?

And then, my other question was on your former friends, kind of, in the green community that have expressed, I think, some level of frustration with the announcement today — feeling like it’s doubling down on fossil fuels. 

Obviously, I know that you’ve kind of made this argument that, long term, you’re trying to pivot towards green energy, especially with the second part of the announcement today.  But what do you say to climate activists who are sort of frustrated right now? 

MR. DEESE:  Great.  So, on the first — on the first part of the question, I would say our goal is to provide relief to all Americans in all geographies across the country.  And that means doing everything we can to bring down the price of gas at the pump everywhere.  And so, that’s our — that’s our focus.

And the issue of the prices of gas going up very quickly and tracking oil prices and coming down much more slowly is not new.  It’s old enough that economists have a particular term associated with it called “rockets and feathers.”  But just because we can identify it doesn’t mean that it is — it reflects an efficient market or a competitive market. 

So, that — that has been — that has been our focus.

On your second question, I want to be really clear.  And I think the President — you know, the President said this better today, but I will just underscore it.  The circumstances in global oil markets today and global energy markets today provide the clearest possible signal why the United States needs to do everything it can to accelerate toward energy security and true energy independence. 

And the only way that we can ultimately do that is to reduce and eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels — that’s what the President was clear about today — and that, in fact, in the very near term, making sure that we have adequate supply is critically important for American families who are suffering. 

But the opportunity to actually work in partnership with our European allies — for example, to help them reduce their own dependence by reducing demand for fossil energy — by moving forward on the plan that the President underscored today, we have a historic opportunity to do that.  And we are wasting no time and we are taking no — this is not causing us to do anything but move even more quickly in the steps that we can take.

I think the message that we have is that not only — not only can we do these things together, but we have to do these things together.

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  Alex.

Q    Yes.  Thank you.  I just wanted to follow up about the allies and partners who would be participating.  Can you give any additional detail?  Will China be participating in the oil release?

MR. DEESE:  So, I don’t want to get ahead of any specific commitments, but I’ll say a couple of things. 

The first is that, as with every action that we have taken in relation to the war in Ukraine, the President and our entire team have been consulting and working incredibly closely with allies and partners on this.  This was a significant topic in the President’s call with the Quint on Monday, at the leader level.  Our teams have been working around the clock together, before going into that and in the period since.

The IEA is the body of countries that have significant stocks and reserves, and the formal process that they, under — that they go into — and the United States is a member of the IEA — is to bring forward a proposal for a collective release.  And the que- — the decision is whether there is a collective release and then how much each country will contribute into that. 

So, that’s the process that will — that will happen starting tomorrow morning.  I don’t want to get ahead of it. 

The only thing that I would say — and I think this is probably implicit in what we have done here — is we, the United States and the President, made an explicit decision that the United States would lead here and lead with a historic use of our reserves.  We have those reserves; we have the capability to do that.  And so that was a — that was an explicit decision, at the same time looking to partner with allies.  And I think we will see that reflected over the course of the next couple

of days. 

Q    So, all of the IEA members are the only ones participating in the release?  Is that accurate?

MR. DEESE:  Well, what I can tell you is that the IEA — the meeting tomorrow will be of IEA me- — of IEA members, and that will be — the question will be about a collective release in that context. 

We continue to engage with non-IEA members — China and other countries — around their reserves, and we’ll continue to do so.  But the immediate — the immediate step at hand will be the IEA.

Q    The President said gas might drop between 10 and 35 cents a gallon, Brian.

Q    On this —

Q    Does sound about right to you — 10 and 35 cents a gallon?  Does that sound about right? 

Q    Do you —

Q    That’s what President Biden said.

Q    — have any reaction to OPEC failing to —

Q    Is that 10, 35 cents —

Q    Thanks, Brian.  On this “use it or lose it” push — you know, the President had discussions with leaders in the oil industry ahead of this announcement.  What, if any, assurances were given about increasing production?  Were there any guarantees made?

MR. DEESE:  So, what we have engaged with oil companies and energy companies on, they have been public about.  So you can see — the reason why the market expectation has now increased to an expectation of about a million barrels a day of additional production online is because many of those companies have gone out and been quite explicit about their intention to ramp up production across time.  And that’s an outgrowth of a number of the conversations that we have had. 

And so, the “use or lose it” approach is consistent in the sense that those companies that are looking to ramp production or to to bring back online shuttered wells, those permitted areas would obviously be unaffected. 

Q    So, again, does 10 to 35 cents sounds —

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  April. 

Q    I’m asking a question.

Q    Brian — I’m sorry.  Brian.

MR. DEESE:  As I said, it’s uncertain, and so I’ll let the President —

Q    Brian, so since —

Q    Does that — what’s a fair price —

Q    Sorry, they called on me.

Q    What’s a fair price —

Q    Brian.

Q    — that you would accept, the White House, for gas?

Q    Brian, as you just spoke about China, what are the conversations with India — another country that’s dealing with major oil issues, gasoline issues? 

And also, what are the guarantees with this 1 million a day for six months for Americans?

MR. DEESE:  So, there — our conversations with all countries that have reserves is similar in encouraging them to participate and to contribute in, consistent with their stocks — their available stocks and their — and their circumstances.

We have seen to date a quite extraordinary willingness to participate — including IEA and non-IEA members — to participate in those coordinated releases, including the Indian government to date.  And so, the work of diplomacy and engagement with our allies and partners is aimed to make sure that that continues.

Q    But isn’t it more about the United States, China, and India, when you are looking at these three — top three consumers of oil?

MR. DEESE:  So, in terms — what — when we’re talking about collective releases, the issue is actually where are the countr- — who are the countries that actually have the largest reserves — not the largest consumers, but the largest reserves.  So those are the IEA.

Q    But consumption does play into this as well, though.

MR. DEESE:  Certainly.  But in terms of releasing supply onto the market, that’s a function of the reserves.

Q    And then, what are the guarantees for the American consumer in these six months, in the midst of COVID, in the midst of this war, in the midst of Russia doing whatever it’s doing?

MR. DEESE:  Well — and I think this goes to the question — the gentleman’s question as well.  What the President — what the President has said is — is that, in terms of guarantees, he’s going to do everything that he can.  He’s going to stay at this, even in a very uncertain period, to do everything within his power to try to provide relief to families. 

And we can now commit that we will deliver a million barrels a day into the — into the market, consistent with the President’s directive across time.

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  So, I think Brian has time for one more.

Ed.

Q    Thanks, Brian.  In talking about countries that may or may not get involved, I’m curious if there’s been any more conversation with Venezuela, Iran, Saudi Arabia about boosting the production or about working out how we can potentially see more of their oil get back on the market. 

And then, on the “use or lose it” proposal he talked about — the idea that companies would be fined if they don’t use their leases — is there existing legislation he’s referring to?  Or how would that work?

MR. DEESE:  Sure.

Q    And how is that — if not legal, how is that in keeping with sort of the capitalistic — he says he’s a capitalist.

MR. DEESE:  Of course.

Q    Who is the government to be telling businesses what to do with something they’ve leased, I guess?

MR. DEESE:  Sure.  So, on your first, there are conversations, engagements ongoing, but I don’t have any — I don’t have any new update on that front. 

On the — on the second, the — we start from the premise that all of these are leases on public land, so it’s federal — it’s federal land, and so it’s a — your assets as a — as citizens and as taxpayers. 

And so, the way the process works is that companies lease tracts of land.  They then — in areas where they are more interested in potentially discovering, they then seek a permit within their leased areas. 

And so, the way that this policy would operate would be to say: Going forward, in those areas where you are holding leased land but you are not exploring, then you — then you would pay incrementally on that. 

I would say two things.  One is: When companies lease, they’ll lease with the federal government.  Again, this is companies operating with the federal government on public land.  The lease is to explore and to pursue production.  That’s the stated — those are the stated lease terms. 

So, it is — it’s appropriate for the federal — and number two, companies can always rescind their leases or transfer their leases as well.  So they can — they can — they can provide their leases back to the federal government if they no longer have any use for them, or they could transfer them as well. 

So this is really about a very practical issue, which is everybody — Republicans, Democrats — everyone is saying we need to figure out how to increase more supply.  And so, in those areas where we already know that the leases have occurred, the permits have occurred, there’s nothing more that needs to happen, we should be encouraging companies to operate.  And if they don’t intend to, or they don’t — they don’t want to, then they could hand those leases back to the government.

Q    Are you still concerned that gas prices could hit record highs this spring and this summer?

MR. DEESE:  So, the — I’m not — I’m not going to predict where the — where the market will go.  You’ll — you’ll find me not predicting on any particular forward data point. 

What I will say is that because of the President’s actions today, because of a historic effort to put a million barrels a day of supply into the market, and because of the effort to work with allies and partners and galvanize a global response on this front, the market will be significantly more well supplied and prices will be lower than if we didn’t take this historic action. 

And that’s — you know, that’s what — our focus is actions that we can take to make sure that the — that prices come down as much as we can.

Q    Brian, one on food security real quick.  Do you have updates on the President’s efforts to prevent real food shortages sparked by the war?

MR. DEESE:  So, we are — it’s a issue of — a top focus, and we will have more to say on that issue in the coming days.  But I don’t have a specific announcement for you today.

Q    Any reaction to OPEC only incrementally raising production?

MR. DEESE:  I think it’s the same answer as the question earlier.  We continue to have those conversations, but I don’t have anything new for you today.

Q    Any message to low-income Americans getting clobbered right now at the pumps?

MR. DEESE:  You have a President who — you have a President who is doing everything that he possibly can to try to address that situation, including, I would say, the President announced today, and I would encourage you all to — to really cover it and look into it: $3.2 million through the weatherization program that goes directly to low-income families.  A low-income family could get a $6,500 grant to make their home more energy efficient, bring down their energy costs by hundreds of dollars a year, and improve the health of their home.  That’s something the President did this week, putting that money out, in addition to the other issues that we discussed today. 

Thanks.

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  Thanks, Brian.  Thank you all very much. 

So, if you will just indulge me for a minute, I have a few announcements I’d like to make at the top here, so just bear with me.

So, today we’re marking Transgender — the Transgender Day of Visibility by celebrating transgender Americans who are thriving and making their communities stronger.

Unfortunately, transgender Americans, particularly children, continue to face unacceptably high levels of bullying and discrimination.  As you know, the President signed one of the most comprehensive executive orders on LGBTQI+ rights in history, shortly after taking office.  And this administration has repeatedly and forcefully called out state legislatures that are advancing legislation that discriminates against trans children and their families. 

Today, the State Department and Department of Homeland Security announced new steps that will improve the travel experience for transgender Americans.  And the Department of Health and Human Services has released new resources for transgender kids and their families to help protect their mental health and ensure they receive the care they need to thrive.

Finally, the President is reiterating his call for the Senate to pass the Equality Act to provide long-overdue civil rights protections to transgender and LGBTQI+ Americans.

As the President told transgender Americans in his State of the Union Address, this administration will always have your back so you can be yourself and reach your God-given potential.

Today, we’re also celebrating the life and legacy of César Estrada Chávez — a champion for social justice, an advocate for farmworkers and working people who build and sustain our nation; a leader who has inspired generations of people to fight, organize, and expand opportunities for workers.

When President Biden became President, he placed a bust of César Chávez in the Oval Office as a reminder of the values and his vision to fight for respect, social justice, and equal dignity for all workers.

The Biden-Harris administration remains committed to building an economy from the bottom up and the middle out that works for all.  We fought hard to pass the American Rescue Plan that helped Latino workers, families, and small businesses to ensure that they had the support they needed through the pandemic.  And we created a historic Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment to help workers to organize to provide an earned pathway to citizenship.

Today, we join people across the country celebrating and honoring César Chávez’s legacy while we continue to advance the rights and dignity of working people.

Today, new CDC data further underscored the mental health impact of the pandemic, including the fact that nearly half of high schoolers reported that they felt persistently sad or hopeless during the past year.

As a mother of young kids, I know this is a huge concern for so many parents. 

The President has been acutely aware of the mental health impact of the pandemic on young people, which is why he made it a Day One priority to get schools reopened safely and secure much-needed resources through the American Rescue Plan to address youth mental health — a bill which every single Republican, I would note, voted against.

We’ve invested five and a half billion dollars in programs that support mental health and wellbeing, including tens of millions for programs that specifically address youth mental health.

For instance, schools across the country are using American Rescue Plan funds to hire school counselors and social workers to address this crisis — according to this new CDC data, the very kind of connection that helps protect youth mental health.

President Biden remains deeply focused on this very real crisis and providing the resources to address it.  As part of the Unity Agenda that he laid out during the State of the Union Address and his budget, the President put forward a historic increase in funding to strengthen and expand youth mental health services.  And we’re going to continue to build on this progress and do everything we can to support the mental health and wellbeing of our young people.

And then lastly, but certainly not least, today we announced additional sanctions on Russian technology companies that enable Putin’s war of choice.  We will prevent them from procuring Western technology and evading our severe sanctions.

We’re also expanding our sanctions authority to target additional sectors of the Russian economy important to Putin, including aerospace, maritime, and the electronics sectors. 

In the coming days, the Commerce Department will also take further action to degrade Russia’s defense, aerospace, and maritime sectors by adding 120 entities in Russia and Belarus to the Entity List, bringing the number of Russian and Belarusian parties added to the list to over 200 since the invasion began.  Being added to this list means that these entities can no longer get U.S. cutting-edge technology without a license, which will — which will in most, if not all, of these cases be denied. 

Compared to the same time period last year, U.S. exports to Russia of items subject to our new export controls have decreased by 99 percent by value.  The power of these restrictions will compound over time as Russia draws down any remaining stockpiles — for example, spare parts for certain planes and tanks. 

We will continue to impose unprecedented costs, strengthen Ukraine’s hand, and make Putin’s war of choice a strategic failure.

So, thanks for hanging with me.  I told you I had a lot.  And I’m happy to take questions. 

Darlene?

Q    Thanks, Kate.  A couple on Russia.  Can you elaborate first on the President’s comment a while ago that there is some indication that Putin has either fired some of his top officials or put some of them under house arrest?  What evidence or information does the White House have?

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  Well, the President’s words on that speak for thems- — for themselves.  I don’t have a lot to add by the way of detail. 

What I would point to is certainly information that we made public yesterday about Putin and his military.  You know, I think, writ large, we have seen this invasion has been a strategic failure for Putin and for Russia.  They are working to re-define the intentional the — the initial, I should say — the initial aims of their invasion.  And we’ve seen, time and again, that the sanctions that have been applied are providing — are exacting extreme costs on their economy.

So, I don’t have anything to add to what the President said, except to say we have seen incontrovertible evidence that this has been a strategic disaster for Russia.

Q    And the second question is: The United States, the UK have been working together to release intelligence information since before Russia invaded Ukraine.  And I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the value of that relationship and how the White House thinks it’s affected Putin’s conduct in the war — releasing that kind of information.

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  Well, I can’t speak to how it’s impacted Putin’s conduct.  That’s again — as I said yesterday, I’m not a spokesperson for the Kremlin.

What I can say, though, is that we’ve made every effort to be transparent.  Even from the time before Putin invaded, we worked to make sure that we were providing information that gave a sense of what we knew Russia was going to do.

I think it — you know, to call them out in that way, and to be clear that we knew what their intentions were, had the impact of putting them on their back foot.

I can’t — again, I can’t speak to how that’s impacted their calculus; that’s for them to say.  But I think we’ve seen, writ large, that the invasion has been a strategic error, is leaving Russia weaker.  Putin himself has said that the sanctions have imposed unprecedented costs on the Russian economy.

And our role in this — our role is to continue to strengthen Ukraine on the battlefield, as we’ve been doing with an unprecedented amount of security assistance, and to continue to strengthen their hand at the negotiating table.

Q    And then just one more, quickly.  Going back to the information that you mentioned you all released yesterday, is that some sort of an attempt to sow division among the Russian leadership?  And if so, does the White House think that is

working?

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  It is simply an effort to continue to paint the picture of what a strategic blunder this decision has been for Vladimir Putin.

Mary.

Q    On that, it seems you’re releasing even more information today.  A U.S. official says you have information that indicates that some Russian government senior officials likely disagreed with Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine, that their disillusionment is probably amplified by Russia’s military underperformance.  Is it your understanding that Putin is losing the support of some of his top officials?  And why release this as well?

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  Well, again, I don’t have anything further to add to the specifics there.  I can only speak to what this underscores, which is the larger sense that this has been a failure for Russia.

You know, I think we’ve seen reporting that morale amongst the Russian military is low.  And I think that would not come as a surprise to anyone who’s seen what the Russian military is — is enduring here.  You have conscripts.  You have people who’ve been brought in to fight this incredibly grueling battle.  So, I don’t think it’s a surprise to anybody that morale is low.

But beyond that, I don’t have anything specific that I can add.

Q    On the President’s comments about, you know, people being put under house arrest or arrested, can you say — is it your understanding that those who are being arrested under house arrest are ones who sort of broke the bad news to the President about the military’s performance, or are they ones who now are disagreeing with — disagree with the decision to invade in

the first place?

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  I don’t have any further additional detail that I can add.

Mike.

Q    You keep saying though that, though — that this is to try and, you know, paint a picture of Putin’s strategic blunder or strategic error, but it certainly seems like you’re needling and trolling Vladimir Putin here.

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  Those are your words, not ours.  I — we have been very clear that we are — everything that we are doing here is designed to advance our ultimate strategic aim, which is strengthening — as I said, strengthening Ukraine on the battlefield, strengthening their hand at the negotiating table, giving them what they need to push back on Russian aggression.

And I think it is self-evident based on what we’ve seen since Putin invaded on February 24 — as we’ve seen their economy collapse; we’ve seen the ruble collapse.  You know, the impact of his choice has been significant.  And we’re going to continue to advance our strategy of doing everything we can to ensure that Ukraine is — has what they need to continue to push back on Russian aggression.

Mike. 

Q    This may be a little late — late-breaking, I don’t know, but there have been reports in the last hour or so about concerns at Chernobyl, with Russian — with Russians leaving the nuclear plant because of some kind of exposure.  Do you have any — does the U.S. government have any information about what might be going on there and whether — sort of how broad the danger is there?

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  I have not seen that since we came into this room, but I’m happy to go look into it, and we can come back to you with answers.

Yeah.  Cleve.

Q    Hey.  On COVID, I wonder if you can comment on reports that there’s an “agreement in principle” for $10 billion in additional COVID aid.  I think Senator Romney talked about it earlier today.

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  So, as we talked about yesterday, we are obviously very hopeful that Congress is making progress as we need to get this urgent funding that we need to fight COVID-19. 

The President has been very clear there is a strong sense of urgency here.  You know, you heard him say yesterday that Congress’s failure to act is already having severe consequences, including on our supply of monoclonal antibodies and treatments for the immunocompromised. 

So, these are, as you note, ongoing active negotiations on this, and so we’re certainly not going to negotiate from the podium.  But I will say that the President has been very clear that there’s an urgent need for this funding, and we’re very hopeful that Congress is going to come to a solution on this.

Q    One more —

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  Sure.

Q    One follow on that.

MS. BEDINGFIELD:   Sure.

Q    I think the plan calls for slashing some of the foreign aid.  You know, Biden has said repeatedly that we can’t just, you know, take care of ourselves; that we have to — you know, the pandemic isn’t going to stop.  There’s no wall we can build. 

Would he sign a bill or would he veto a bill that doesn’t include significant foreign aid?

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  Well, what I would say to this is: We have been very clear and the President has been very clear, both publicly and in private, about the acute need for funding of our global response for weeks, if not months.  And in the past day, our position has been very clear about the importance here.

Right now, countries, in fact, are declining our doses because they don’t have the infrastructure in place to take our lifesaving vaccines.  Funding will obviously help solve this issue. 

And I actually want to read to you a letter to the President signed by 14 U.S. senators, half of whom are Republicans.  Quote, “We urge you in the strongest possible terms to do more to lead global efforts to end this pandemic and increase global vaccine access.”

So, we hope that these senators will follow their own advice and provide resources for the global response, because now is the time to act, and we’re not going to be able to put this pandemic behind us until we stop the spread and proliferation of new variants globally.

So, the President has been very clear he believes this funding is important.  But again, we’re going to let Congress work through, and we’re very hopeful that they are going to come to a solution.

Q    Kate —

Q    A Russia follow-up.

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  Kristen.

Q    Thanks, Kate.  I want to ask you again about the President’s comments today when he was asked about the information that Putin is being left in the dark by his advisors.  He seemed much less confident in the intelligence than you were from the podium and other top officials here. 

When he was asked about it today, he said it’s “an open question.”  There’s a lot of speculation.  “He seems to be self-isolating,” he said, “but we don’t have hard evidence.”  You said from the podium, “We have information that Putin felt misled by the Russian military.” 

Why the disconnect?

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  I don’t see a disconnect there.  We were clear yesterday that we shared a piece of information that helps paint a picture about how this has been a strategic failure for Russia.  There —

Q    The President said, “There’s a lot of speculation.”  He didn’t say, “We have hard evidence.  We’re confident.”

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  And there’s — there is plenty of discussion.  And that’s part of what we did yesterday, was put additional information into the public sphere, into the conversation.

I don’t think there’s a disconnect between those two things.  The President was making a statement about where things currently stand — where he understands things to currently stand.  I don’t think that’s — I don’t think that’s in any way at odds with what we said yesterday.

Q    So is the administration confident that Putin is being left in the dark by his top advisors?  You stand by everything you said from the podium yesterday?

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  We put forward information yesterday, and I think you can draw the appropriate conclusion from that.  We would not put it forward if we didn’t have confidence in it.

Q    One more on Hunter Biden, who has been in the headlines again recently.  During the last presidential debate, then-Vice President Biden was asked if there was anything inappropriate or unethical about his son’s relationships, business dealings in China and/or Ukraine.  The President said, “Nothing was unethical.”  He went on to say, “My son has not made money in terms of this thing about, what you’re talking about, China.” 

Does the White House stand by that comment that the then-Vice President made?

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  We absolutely stand by the President’s comment.  And I would point you to the reporting on this, which reference statements that we made at the time that we gave to the Washington Post, who worked on this story. 

And — but as you know, I don’t speak for Hunter Biden, so there’s not more I can say on that.

Jacqui.

Q    Thank you, Kate.  On releasing barrels from the Strategic Reserve: This move does not resolve the structural deficit that we have.  In the last two times the administration released barrels of oil, it didn’t have a measurable impact on gas prices.  So what makes this administration believe that this move is going to have an impact this time?

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  Well, this is — as you heard Brian say, this is a historic and unprecedented release in terms of size.  It is going to help meet the mismatch between supply and demand in the market.  A million barrels a day is a significant addition to the marketplace and is going to — as I say, is going to address the — some of the mismatch between supply and demand. 

And I think what Americans should take away from this announcement today is that President Biden is relentlessly focused on doing everything he can to ensure that Putin’s price hike does not hit them at the gas pump. 

So, what they’ve seen from him, I think, since the day he took office is a focus on doing what he can to address kitchen table issues, to address the things that people across the country are worried about, including gas prices.

And so today, you know, not only is it historic in scope, but it — as you heard Brian talk about, this has also been — the President has led a global effort to galvanize a response to this because he knows that rising prices at the pump hurt families, and he’s doing everything in his power to bring those prices down.

Q    This is going to bring up the —

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  Oh.

Q    This is going to bring up the — the supply in the short term, but it’s not, you know, a long-term solution.  And you know, one analyst has said that if the market maintains a structural deficit for a long period of time, releasing reserves might actually keep prices higher.  So if this does not work in the way that you think it’s going to work, will the administration stop releasing a million barrels a day?

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  We will cer- — well, I won’t — I won’t speak to what we might do in the hypothetical depending on where the market goes.  What I will say broadly is, of course, we would always adjust our strategy to do what is most effective to bring prices down. 

What I would say about the long term, to your — to your question about the long term, is, you know — and I think you heard Brian articulate this really well, and of course, the President spoke to it very powerfully today too — which is: This ultimately shows that dependence on fossil fuels, dependence on foreign oil is not in the sustainable, long-term best interests of the United States. 

And that’s why the President has put forward a really aggressive plan to move us to clean energy sources of energy that we can make here in the United States.  That’s part of, as you heard Brian talk about, the Defense Production Act announcement that he made today to help us make electric vehicle batteries in the United States. 

You know, the President feels very strongly that we need to move — we need to make significant strides toward a clean energy economy.  It’s something he’s been very focused on.  You’ll remember, for those of you who covered the campaign, it’s something he ran on.  And so, he’s very focused on ensuring that we’re taking those strides, because that is — that is actually the long-term solution here.

Q    On sanctions, the Russian ruble has almost returned to its pre-war levels.  So does the administration believe that the sanctions are still working?

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  Absolutely.  Yes.  And what I would say about — what I would say about the ruble is: What we’re seeing here is an artificial propping up of the ruble by the Russian Central Bank and by — and by the Russian government.  There are avenues that were closed off to allow the sale of rubles.  They are basically taking artificial measures to keep the ruble propped up. 

I would also say that in the first —

Q    But what are we doing about that?

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  — you know, in the first few days — in the first — I would say also, in the first few days after the conflict began, the ruble was a reliable measure of where the Russian economy is, but it is not any longer, in part because of these artificial steps that are being taken.

So if you look at things like dramatic inflation in Russia, if you look at private investment pulling out of Russia, if you look at Putin himself saying that the sanctions have imposed unprecedented costs, I think that’s a better metric of where the Russian economy is right now.

Steve.

Q    I want to follow up on Kristen’s question about the President’s son.  Is it your understanding it’s the President’s view that as he looks at all of Hunter Biden’s business dealings with his uncle, that neither Hunter Biden nor James Biden committed any crimes or did anything that was unlawful?

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  So, I don’t have anything further to add from this podium.  We addressed this with the Washington Post.  We pointed to statements that were made in the fall of 2020 when we addressed these questions.  And I don’t have anything additional to add from this podium.

Q    Can I ask you if there have been — if you’re aware if there have been any discussions here inside this White House about whether the President might use his pardon or commutation power with respect to either his son or his brother?

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  That’s not a hypothetical I’m going to entertain.  I don’t have anything to add from this podium.

Justin.

Q    Thanks, Kate.  The President met with progressive lawmakers last night here at the White House.  And afterwards, they said that they’d pressed him on sort of a laundry list of executive orders and actions that they’d like him to take: canceling student debt, raising the overtime threshold, prescription drug costs.

Are any of those sort of live here in the White House right now?  Are they under consideration — especially, I think, relative to this negotiation that’s going on about elements of Build Back Better and whether, you know, push-and-pull with those executive actions might help or hurt that effort?

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  Well, I don’t have any specific announcements on any of those specific pieces.  What I would say more broadly is that, from day one, the President has used the full array of tools at his disposal to achieve his objectives, and that’s included legislative action, regulatory action, and executive orders.  And he will certainly continue to do so.  But I don’t have any specific coming actions to preview for you right now.

Q    And then — sorry, real quick.  Jordan ask you yesterday about the meeting in India with senior administration officials.

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  Mm-hmm.

Q    I’m wondering now that those have wrapped up, do you have any newfound confidence that India will decide against maintaining oil trade with Russia or a sense of, you know, what came out of the talks?

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  So, I don’t have any specific — I knew you were going to ask this, and I need to follow up with specifics because I don’t have any — I don’t have any additional specifics to read out beyond the fact that they were productive conversations. 

You know, Daleep Singh, the Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economics had really good discussions with his counterparts, and I know that the conversation was productive.

I don’t have additional specifics to read out, but I will.

And, by the way, I should be clear, I meant, generically, “I know you will ask” — not you, specifically. 

Tarini.

Q    Thanks, Kate.  So, on the SPR, some Republicans — for example, Senator Cassidy — have said that the President, with this move today, in terms of the unprecedented drawdown of the SPR, that he’s risking long-term energy security to salvage poll numbers.  Is that something that has played into the White House’s calculus at all?  And how would you respond — respond to that?

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  Absolutely not.  What the President is doing is using every tool available to him to bring prices down for the American people at the pump.  He’s been clear that his focus is working to relieve the pain and the burden that working families, middle-class families are feeling as a result of price hikes.  So every policy decision that he makes is driven by a desire to do everything he can to ease that burden on working families.

Ed.

Q    Just two quick — quick ones.  Following up Kristen’s line of inquiry as well.  I know Hunter Biden is not a government employee; you don’t speak for him.  Has the President read these reports?  Do you guys take them to him when the inquires come in?  And what has been his reaction to them?

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  I don’t have anything additional to add on this from the podium, but thank you.

Kaitlan.

Q    Thank —

Q    And on — on Title 42, you’re preparing to end this policy at some point soon here.  There has been some concern expressed by Democrats, as well as Republicans — but Democrats, notably — about how the administration is preparing to wind that down and prepare for a surge.  I believe some administration officials say they’re anticipating a record surge. 

What is the administration doing to not only alleviate those concerns from moderate Democrats — some of whom may face voter ire for that — but then, more broadly, how is, you know, the administration preparing for that surge?  If you can sort of generally summarize.

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  Well — so thank you for the question.  First, I would note — as I said yesterday and we have said many, many times — obviously this is a decision that the CDC will make. 

That said, of course, we are preparing for contingencies.  And so, what I would say is: You know, our goal is going to be to process migrants in a safe and orderly manner. 

But also, to be clear: Most individuals who cross the border without legal authorization will be promptly paced — placed into removal proceedings.  And if they are unable to establish a legal basis to remain in the United States, they’ll be expeditiously removed and returned to their country of origin.

As a reminder, economic need and flight from generalized violence is not a basis for asylum, but rather asylum is for those with a well-founded fear of persecution on a protected ground.  And so, asylum and other legal migration pathways should remain available to those seeking protection.  And we’re working to expand legal pathways in the region so that people don’t make this treacherous journey.

Obviously, trying to enter the United States illegally carries consequences and no one should try to make this dangerous journey or try to unlawfully enter the United States.

The Department of Homeland Security, as I noted yesterday, put together a preparedness plan to address the number of people coming to our border and work with our partners in the region to provide safe options for people outside the United States.

We are obviously working to deliver a more efficient and fair processing system through, for example, a dedicated docket to conduct speedier and fair immigration proceedings for families who arrive between ports of entry. 

So there is a significant amount of work we obviously inherited when we came into this administration.  We inherited an immigration system that had been systematically dismantled by the previous administration.  There’s been a tremendous amount of work from day one to rebuild that, and we are certainly focused on continuing to assert order at the border.

Q    Thanks, Kate.  One point of clarification: When the President says he believes Putin is firing or putting senior advisors on house arrest, he’s talking about military advisors, right?

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  I have nothing additional I can add beyond the President’s comments on this.

Q    You can’t say that he’s referencing the Russian Foreign Minister?

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  I think his words speak for him — speak for themselves. 

Q    Thank you.  And —

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  Alex.

Q    No, no — sorry, I’ve got one more.

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  Sure.

Q    President Biden has not spoken to President Putin in quite some time.  Are there any plans being made for the two of them to speak?

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  Not currently.  We’ve been very clear that any reengagement of diplomacy at that level would require significant demonstration from the Russians of serious de-escalation, and we have not seen that.

Q    Oh, you need to see de-escalation before he’ll speak to President Putin again?

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  We’ve been very clear about that.

Yeah.

Q    Do you take — do you take any responsibility —

Q    The White House has previously —

Q    — (inaudible) President Biden approval —

Q    The White House has previously considered a gas tax holiday but, basically, kind of ruled against it.  I’m curious if this is still off the table.  And what does the White House think about individual states that are considering or have already enacted their own gas tax holidays?

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  So, it is — it is not off the table, in fact.  The President is looking at every option to provide relief to consumers around — around gas prices.  Obviously, a lot of these conversations are happening in Congress.  But, again, the President is not taking anything off the table at this stage.

Alex.

Q    European countries have rejected Putin’s demand to pay for gas in rubles.  Does the U.S. stand with them in rejecting that as well?

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  We do.  And the German Chancellor, I think, has been very clear that the contracts exist as they exist and there’s going to be no change there.

Q    Kate, do you — do you — I have a question. 

Q    A follow-up?  My question and a question of a colleagues who cannot be here.  My question is, again, on allies and partners and the oil reserves: The President referred to 30 to 50 million barrels.  Brian didn’t want to name any countries, but where did he get this number? 

And Canada being the main exporter of oil to the U.S., has it been — has the country been (inaudible)?

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  Well, I can’t speak to specific bilateral engagements, but I would note that obviously the President discussed this — the G7 when he was in Europe last week.  This is a continuing ongoing conversation with our allies and partners.  It is a key priority of maintaining stability in our energy markets.  So, you know, those conversations are ongoing, and we obviously consult very closely with our allies and partners.

Q    Thank you, Kate. 

Q    Kate, sorry.  Sorry, but from the colleague?

Q    Thank you, Kate. 

Q    Sorry — from the colleague who cannot be here.  It’s about: The Prime Minister of Pakistan accused the U.S. of working with the opposition to remove him from power.  He just said that today.  What’s the White House reaction?

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  There is absolutely no truth to that allegation.

Q    Thanks, Kate.  To go back to the COVID deal.  I know you say you’re not going to negotiate from the podium, and the President has obviously warned about the severe consequences if there is no funding.  But if there is a $10 billion deal, which some of the top negotiators say they’re getting close to, what would the administration then be able to cover?  That long list the President went through yesterday of everything that stops over the coming months, what is saved over the coming months and what is still then at risk?

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  Well, obviously the specifics of this deal are continuing to be worked out, so I don’t have a breakdown for you of exactly where that funding would go.  This is a live negotiation. 

 And again, obviously, we’re not going to negotiate from here except to say, broadly, that this is incredibly — an incredibly urgent need.  And we really hope that the Congress is coming to a solution on this.

Q    Is there a top priority that you say, “That is the ‘must thing’ we have to find over the next couple of months”?

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  I’m not going to lay that out as the negotiation is happening.  Obviously, this is being worked through on Capitol Hill, and we’re hopeful that they’re going to come to a solution.

Q    Yeah, Kate, I wanted to ask about the “use it or lose it” policy that the President announced today.  It requires congressional approval.  And I know Brian was briefly asked about this, but I just wanted to clarify: I mean, has the White House prepared legislation on this?  Does it have support lined up in Congress?  And what is the timeline you’re hoping to pass this measure?  And is it really even realistic in an evenly divided Senate right now with midterms coming up in the fall?

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  Well, you know, the proposal would actually build on the version that’s in the House bill.  So there’s a version of this —

Q    Right.

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  — that is already — yeah, there’s a version of this that’s already been put forward. 

Obviously, the President looks forward to working with Congress on it.  He believes it’s a — it’s a critically important piece of helping to move our energy dependence from overseas back home and to move us toward a clean energy economy.

So, we intend to work very closely with Congress.  This will be a priority for the President. 

But I don’t — in terms of a specific timeline, I don’t have any — anything further on that.

Q    So you’re going to pass it with that House bill?  Or you’re — you saying you’re building on that.  What does that look like?

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  That will be an ongoing negotiation.  We will continue to build on it.  That’s a discussion that we’ll have with Congress. 

Obviously, this announcement just came today, so that work will be ongoing.

Q    Thank you, Kate.

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  Thank you all very much.  Appreciate it.

 END  4:18 P.M. EDT

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