James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:46 P.M. EDT
Q Hi, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hi. Good afternoon, everybody. So today we have — John Kirby has joined us. And he’s going to talk — talk to us a little bit, talk to you all a little bit about the trip, give a preview of the trip, G7 and NATO — the President, as you all know, is leaving on Saturday for five days — and give a little bit of an update on the PDA, right?
MR. KIRBY: Yes, ma’am.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Our next security assistance to Ukraine.
Okay. All yours, Kirby.
MR. KIRBY: Thank you. Okay, just off the top here, I think today you saw that the United States announced another additional $450 million worth of security assistance to Ukraine as part of our commitment to help Ukraine defend its democracy in the face of unprovoked Russian aggression.
This package contains weapons and equipment, including new High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, tens of thousands of additional rounds of ammunition for the artillery systems that have already been provided as well, and patrol boats to help Ukraine defend its coast and its waterways.
Now, this is the 13th time that President Biden has authorized a Presidential Drawdown package during this crisis, bringing the total amount of security assistance that we provided to Ukraine to approximately $6.1 billion just since February 24th; approximately $6.8 billion since the beginning of this administration.
As President Biden told President Zelenskyy when they spoke last week, the United States will continue to bolster Ukraine’s defenses and support its sovereignty and its territorial integrity.
The bravery and determination of the Ukrainian armed forces, let alone their fellow citizens, continues to inspire the world. And we are committed to standing with them as they fight for their freedom.
Now, this announcement comes just before the President’s trip, leaving Saturday for Europe, at a watershed moment in transatlantic solidarity in the post-Cold War era, not just for European security, but for an alignment like we’ve never seen before in how we confront some of the biggest challenges of our time. And not all of those challenges are driven by borders.
Throughout the G7 Summit in Germany and NATO Summit in Spain, you’re going to see clearly how the President’s day-one focus on revitalizing alliances and partnership — partnerships has allowed us to seize this moment to benefit the American people, support Ukraine, and hold Russia accountable, all while staying focused on the other challenges that define the coming decades, and that includes the challenges posed by China.
The President will be conducting in-person, face-to-face diplomacy with a diverse range of leaders and international organizations throughout this trip.
He knows — he knows better than most that there’s no substitute for that kind of personal engagement. You don’t surge trust, you got to build it.
In Germany, the President will meet with Chancellor Scholz, who holds the G7 presidency, to continue close coordination on the G7 agenda and the core priorities we will advance together in the coming days.
Some of these priorities include new commitments to further isolate Russia from the global economy, target the Russian defense supply chain, and continue cracking down on the evasion of these unprecedented sanctions.
Because of our actions, Russia is struggling to make bond payments, edging closer to default. And our measures will only tighten the screws and restrict revenue Mr. Putin needs to fund this war.
You will also see new commitments on managing the impact that Putin’s war has already had on energy and food prices.
All this is in keeping with the principles President Biden outlined before Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine, and that is that we will work together to ensure Ukraine can defend itself on the battlefield and be in the strongest possible position at the negotiating table as we maximize the cost of Putin and his enablers and minimize the impact of his war on the U.S. and our allies.
You also see the G7 come together on some of the key challenges posed by China, as I said.
And last but not least, President Biden will formally launch the Global Infrastructure Partnership that G7 leaders agreed to explore last year to offer a positive alternative to infrastructure models that sell debt traps to low- and middle-income partner countries and advance U.S. economic competitiveness on our national security.
These lines of effort at the G7 will build on the work we’ve done over the past year to drive the global economic recovery and serve as a leader in imposing significant and swift costs on Russia for its war.
We’ve heard for years now people talking about how the G7 was becoming a spent force. But President Biden’s leadership and this pivotal inflection point have buried that storyline.
The G7 is among the most potent institutions in the world today, with like-minded democracies solving problems.
Now, after the G7, the President will meet with President Sánchez and the King and Queen in Spain. Spain, as you know, is hosting the NATO Summit.
At the NATO Summit, leaders will announce new force posture commitments to strengthen NATO’s defense and deterrent posture. The U.S. will announce steps to strengthen European security, alongside expected major new contributions from Allies.
And for the first time, the summit will include Indo-Pacific leaders from Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and the Republic of Korea, making clear that whether it’s in Europe or the Indo-Pacific region, the United States and our Allies and partners will defend the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Now, finally, the trip will also serve as a clear contrast to some early predictions that never really played out. Instead of a shaken West, for instance, we are more resolved than ever to support Ukraine and are leading that effort head on at both the G7 and the NATO Summit.
Instead of distracting us from the Indo-Pacific and China, the President’s leadership with respect to supporting Ukraine has actually galvanized leaders in that region and effectively linked our efforts in Europe and in Asia. And those Asian countries that will be participating in the NATO Summit, I think, speak volumes about that fact.
And on top of all that, we’ve strengthened our determination to advance a democratic vision that will define the coming decades in terms of building fair economy, shaping the rules of the road for tech, cyber, quantum, space, climate change, and a whole lot more.
The President has never been more confident that this vision will win out over more autocratic and corrupt visions. And he’s looking forward to this trip to advance all those elements.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right, questions.
MR. KIRBY: With that, we’ll take questions.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Steve.
Q John, NATO is expected to come out with a new strategic concept aimed at China. What is that? And why is it necessary?
MR. KIRBY: The strategic concept last was written in 2010. And, my goodness, a lot has changed in the world and on the security landscape since 2010. And, certainly, a lot has changed in the Alliance’s focus.
Back in 2010, you might recall, the NATO — NATO was very deeply involved in the war in Afghanistan. And again, the security landscape has changed. And it’s time now for a new strategic concept, 12 years later.
And not only has the landscape changed, particularly from Mr. Putin’s war in Ukraine, but military capabilities and organizational concepts and operational concepts have changed as well. And it’s time for the Alliance to step up to those — to those new developments.
I think it’s a reflection — you asked about China specifically — I think it’s a reflection of our allies’ equal concerns over the effect of Chinese economic practices, use of forced labor, intellectual theft, and coercive, aggressive behavior not just in the region, but elsewhere around the world, that they believe it’s important to factor China into the new strategic concept.
It builds on — you might remember, less than a year ago, the defense ministers, for the first time in NATO, put mention of China in the communiqué. So it’s building on what has been months and months of discussions and deliberations with the Allies about the threat that China poses to international security well beyond just the Indo-Pacific region.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Phil.
Q Hey, John. Thanks for doing this. The durability of the coalition or alliances that have been put into place to respond to the invasion, what’s the level of concern right now about how that can be sustained?
And you mentioned food and energy prices. Are there things that the President or the U.S. will specifically put on the table to try and ease some of the issues that have been rattling elements of that?
MR. KIRBY: To your second question, the answer is yes. I don’t want to get ahead of specific deliverables right now, Phil. But I think it’s fair to say that — that there will be announcements forthcoming about how to impose further cost and consequences on Russia.
But again, I don’t want to get ahead of that.
On your first question, I mean, my goodness, he’s going — he’s going into a NATO Summit where the Alliance has truly never been more unified. And now there’s active discussions about adding to that list of nations another two — two countries willing to seek accession in NATO.
It’s just truly never been more relevant or viable. And the same goes for the G7. And the — if you just look at the scope of the things they’re going to be talking about, from climate, energy, food, food security, as well as the war in Ukraine, and the fact that there are additional countries coming to the G7 — four additional countries — there’s an awful lot — there’s an awful lot of unity to see here.
You know, we — we’ve had this discussion since before the invasion: You know, can NATO stay solid? Are they going to be fractured? Because, of course, the last thing Mr. Putin wants is a strong NATO on his Western flank. And, of course, he’s gotten just that. And we haven’t seen any fractures or fissures.
I mean, every country speaks for themselves, every country has concerns for what they’re willing to do or not do. But as far as the Alliance goes, it truly has never been stronger and more viable than it is today. And the President is looking forward, when he gets to Spain, to — to seeing that, to seeing that in real time.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m going to go to the back. Nadia.
Q Thank you. John, I noticed that you have invited other countries to join, like South Africa, Argentina, Senegal, and India.
MR. KIRBY: India and Indonesia.
Q And Indonesia. Some of them have huge economy and others have lesser economy. What was the significance of inviting these countries? And is it an attempt from the administration to take them off from any alliance with Russia?
MR. KIRBY: To splinter them off from alliances with Russia?
Q It could be a potential — potentially could be. Some of them, not all.
MR. KIRBY: So these — these additional countries that you mentioned, they have been invited because there’s certain agenda items at the G7 that — that will apply to them. And I’ll let them speak for their involvement in those sessions and — and the relevance to them. But — but because the agenda is so diverse and so deep, it was — it was deemed appropriate to bring them into that discussion.
It is not about trying to splinter them off or coax them away from any other association or partnership that they might have with another country. That’s not the goal here.
The goal is to unify around a set of common principles and initiatives that the G7 — you know, you’ll — you’ll hear more about this at the summit — but that the G7 wants to advance in terms of climate change, energy and food security.
As I said, adding additional costs and consequences to Mr. Putin, further isolating Russia — all these nations have a pi- — a piece of that. And certainly in the G7, there’s — there’s unity around that sort of an agenda.
Q You were talking about the effort to add two additional countries to NATO right now. There’s obviously been real challenges as it relates to Turkey with the addition of Finland and Sweden. Can you take us, as best possible, behind the scenes of the status of that, if there’s going to be a direct contact between President Biden and President Erdoğan, and how you go about shifting that? Because I know there’s unity among the members of NATO, but there’s not unity among the members of NATO about the addition of the fast track of those two countries.
MR. KIRBY: Yeah. So, clearly, the potential accession here of Sweden and Finland will be on the agenda at the summit. No question about that. And, actually, there is terrific support inside the Alliance for their accession.
Right now, the conversations are — are trilateral between Sweden, Finland, and Turkey. We’re confident that they’re going to be able to get there, that they’re going to be able to work out the differences that they have, and that Sweden and Finland will be able to join the Alliance.
When exactly, I couldn’t tell you that. I mean, these discussions are still ongoing. But we’re confident that it’s going to lead to 32 nations in the Alliance.
And we have also indicated that — that should it be desired, we’d be willing to help in those — in those conversations. But right now, it’s between those nations.
And I don’t have anything in particular in terms of bilateral discussions to speak to or to announce today with respect to President Erdoğan.
Q John, you mentioned food security is — food security is one of the —
MR. KIRBY: Yes, sir.
Q — topics. A couple days ago, you spoke to us a bit about the grain trapped in Ukraine. Is that going to be a subject of conversation at the G7? Or can you give us an update on either the bloc’s efforts or U.S. efforts specifically to get some of that grain out?
MR. KIRBY: Well, I do think food security in general will be a topic at the G7. And I certainly think that with — inside the context of what’s going on in Ukraine, it absolutely will as well. Again, I don’t want to get ahead of specific announcements one way or the other.
I would tell you that we are already working with Allies and partners to help try to get this grain out of the country.
As I said the other day, we know it’s a perishable good and it’s an important good. And we have been able to increase the flow of some grain through the west by ground routes out of Ukraine, but it’s not sufficient, it’s not enough, given the immense amount of grain that — that’s sitting unused right now inside Ukraine.
So, we know we have to find other ways to do this. And we’re willing — as I said the other day, the President is willing to keep an open mind about that.
Obviously, it would certainly help if the Russians would lift what is essentially a blockade in the Black Sea and a blockade over Odessa, which they have obviously shown no — no desire to lift. But that’s a real key here.
And so, you — I know you know, you’re aware that — that Turkey is talking to Russia about this. We certainly welcome Turkey’s involvement in trying to broker some sort of arrangement where that grain can tran- — can be transferred by — by sea. But I think it just remains to be seen whether that’s going to be viable.
Q There were some reports out of Turkey that there might be some kind of meeting next week on this. Is there anything you can share on that?
MR. KIRBY: I don’t have any details on that. I’d refer you to our Turkish counterparts and our Turkish allies on that. I — again, we welcome their efforts to try to get this to happen because it is absolutely — I mean, it’s critical. I mean, as we — Putin is weaponizing food, literally, and this is a prime example of that.
Q Thank you.
Q Yes, if I may ask you a question on a different topic. Is there any consideration being given to fully unfreezing Afghan reserve funds? I know that, given the devastating earthquake this week, there has been an appeal to do that. Is that something you all are considering?
MR. KIRBY: What I can tell you is two things. One, we’re still working through the processes here with respect to that three and a half billion dollars that you’re referring to. That was assets frozen here in the United States. We’re working through a series of processes, including on the legal front, to see how we can get that access quicker than — than we can right now. But we want to make sure — it has to be done the right way. And so there’s a — there’s a process here that we’re working through.
But we’re not waiting. That — that money is set aside, and President Biden was wise to do that, to set that money aside for use in Afghanistan for humanitarian assistance purposes. And that’s still the intent every — in every way.
But there’s an urgent need now. And so the President, while we’re working on that process and we want to get it solved as quickly as possible — and there’s a lot of hoops to jump through — we’re also working very, very stridently right now through USAID and their international partners to get aid and assistance to the Afghan people now. I think the death toll is now over 1,000. We understand that, and we’re working hard to get that aid and assistance to them. And frankly, it’s already starting to show up through our international partners, through USAID’s international partners.
Q Can you articulate at all, when you say that there are some loopholes to go through and that it may take some time, some of the legal challenges? Can you help us understand what — what has been some of the hang-ups?
MR. KIRBY: Yeah, it’s not loopholes. There’s a — there’s a —
Q I’m sorry, (inaudible).
MR. KIRBY: Yeah. There’s a legal process here that has to be pursued to be able to apply that — to be able to apply that funding for that purpose. And we’re still working our way through that.
And I think because we’re still working through a legal process here, it wouldn’t be wise for me to talk in too much detail here from the podium about that.
Q Thank you, Karine. Thank you, John. So, earlier, you talked about the debt trap that — you know, you won’t address that issue on this trip. The Global Infrastructure Partnership, which is going to be announced on this trip, how —
MR. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q — is it a reboot on the Build Back Better World? And is it supposed to be an alternative to China’s One Belt and One Road Initiative?
And I want to add a question on the Allies. You’re talking about the Allies have never been stronger. However, we see yesterday China is hosting a BRICS business forum, and we see India and Brazil sitting down with Xi Jinping and Putin. So, what’s the White House reaction to that?
MR. KIRBY: So, let me take the second one first, because I tend to forget questions if I do them in the order you ask them. (Laughter.)
MR. KIRBY: No, it’s okay. It’s just age. (Laughter.)
MR. KIRBY: Sad, but true.
So, on the — on the BRICS, we’ll let those countries speak for themselves and for the meetings they’re having and the discussions and — and whatever outcomes there might be from that. They can speak for themselves.
What I think is important for us to speak to today is this weekend is G7 and the NATO Summit, and multilateral efforts that President Biden is applying to revitalizing these alliances and partnerships and really — and really putting forth ideas and concrete initiatives that are going to — that are going to help — help our national security, help economic security, help food security. And so that’s what we’re focused on.
Those countries can speak for themselves. And it’s obviously not the first time that they have gotten together, but I’ll let them speak for their agenda. I can only talk about ours, and I just laid that out in the opening statement.
On the Global Infrastructure Partnership, I think, you know, this was something that the President unveiled at the G summit — G7 summit last year. And so, this year, what you’re going to see is him and his G7 partners really actualizing this. You’ll — I don’t want to get ahead here of announcements, but you’ll — you’ll see the G7 really putting some energy and some resources behind this going forward. And it is about — as I put in my opening statement, it is about alternatives to other models out there that — that are highly transactional and actually work to the disadvantage of lower- and middle-income countries.
We think there’s — there’s better ways of doing business, there’s better ways of fostering economic development and infrastructure than some of the models out there. And we believe that this is one of them, and we’re excited to get it started.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Next. Nancy?
Q (Inaudible) my question.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, okay. Go ahead.
Q Thank you. I had a question about NATO and Sahel, because you mentioned Russia, China, but I understand Spain and also France pushed, like, for, you know, the summit to also address threats originating on the southern front —
MR. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q — like jihadism, and, you know, non-military threats linked to climate change, food and security, migration, et cetera. So, will this part be part of the discussions as well?
MR. KIRBY: Look, in general, the security situation on the southern flank of NATO is almost always on the agenda. And we recognize the challenges and the threats that continue to affect security of our NATO Allies on that southern flank.
You know, there’s a lot of focus right now on the eastern flank, as it should be. But there remains a continued effort to make sure we’re also paying attention to the southern flank. So, I think, in general, it will come up.
I won’t get into details about the Sahel specifically. And that’s really a better question left to — to those countries in the Alliance to speak to.
But just in general speaking, security along the southern flank remains key.
Q John, how much longer does the White House believe the war in Ukraine will last? How much longer would you say that the White House believes the war in Ukraine will last — weeks, months, or years?
MR. KIRBY: I don’t think anybody can know for sure, sir. We’ve said when Mr. Putin decided that he was going to focus on the Donbas region, which is a more confined geographic space, that it could be a prolonged fight. And that was — what? — a couple of months ago. And we’re starting to see that now play out.
This is an area of Ukraine that both armies know well. They’ve been fighting over it since 2014. And it’s largely a gunfight. It’s largely about artillery.
And what you’re seeing now is movement in almost block by block, street by street. I mean, much smaller movement of smaller-sized units and smaller progress. The Russian progress has been incremental at best, and they have been thwarted at almost every turn. The Ukrainians continue to fight hard for this.
So, I think if anybody told you they could predict how long this was going to go, they’d be fooling you.
Q Let me follow up on that. The longer it drags on, does that increase the risk U.S. soldiers could be pulled into a hot war with Russia the longer it goes by?
MR. KIRBY: The President has been crystal clear that there’s not going to be U.S. troops fighting in Ukraine. What we are going to do is continue to help Ukraine defend itself. And that’s why we just announced yet another package — $450 million today — to help that — to help that be the case.
Q But what about Russia condemning Israel? Russia has been threatening Israel for helping Ukraine and also for Israel’s bombing of the Damascus, Syria, airport. Any response to Israel that’s being threatened by Russia?
MR. KIRBY: I think our response would be the same as it has been now for the last several months. I mean, obviously, Russia is feeling the pressure — the pressure of being isolated, the pressure of having a military on the ground that clearly has not performed as advertised.
I mean, they still haven’t solved their command-and-control problems, their logistical problems, their unit cohesion problems, their joint fires integration problems. And so they tend to lash out at countries that are providing support to Ukraine.
We’re grateful for the support that Israel has been — has been providing, as well as so many other nations. More than 50 have signed up to provide some measure of security assistance to Ukraine. And that shows you that this is not just a Europe problem. It’s nations around the world that are stepping up to hear — to defend Ukraine.
Q Regarding G7 and concrete initiatives, does the administration support Germany’s proposal for G7 countries to set specific minimum standards for each country to cut fossil fuel emissions and combat climate change — a “climate club” idea?
MR. KIRBY: Again, I don’t want to get ahead of specifics here on the discussion. Obviously, climate change and cutting emissions is a key component of President Biden’s agenda here. I mean, he just met today with — with executives for offshore wind capabilities. I mean, that’s a key — that’s a key focus of our agenda on climate.
But I don’t have anything specific with respect to this proposal and to what degree, you know, it’s going to be —
Q Do you expect this to be part of the bilateral with Scholz?
MR. KIRBY: I think there’ll be a whole range of issues that he’ll be talking about with the — with Chancellor Scholz. And I have no doubt that climate change will be — will be on that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Janne, and then the woman behind you.
MR. KIRBY: Janne, how you doing?
Q Good to see you.
MR. KIRBY: Been a long time.
Q Yeah, thank you.
MR. KIRBY: I know what’s coming. (Laughter.)
Q Yes, I (inaudible). I have two questions for you, on NATO Summit and Korea. Do you have any plans to hold a trilateral summit between U.S. and South Korea and Japan at the NATO Summit?
MR. KIRBY: I don’t have any additional meetings to talk about today, outside of the agenda of the G7 Summit. So I don’t have anything to announce with respect to a trilateral meeting.
I think you know, and we’ve talked about this many times, that President Biden is keen to see greater trilateral cooperation between us and our two allies. In fact, he just was — just visited there not long ago, in Japan and South Korea.
We also are keen to see increased bilateral cooperation between Japan and South Korea. And that’s happening. So he’s very much looking forward to seeing them.
Q Yeah, second question. China opposes South Korea’s participation in the NATO Summit. Do you think if South Korea operating defensively within NATO, it will sufficiently contain China and Russia?
MR. KIRBY: So a couple of thoughts there. China doesn’t get a veto on what meetings the South Koreans attend and associate themselves with. And this isn’t about an Asian version of NATO. NATO is a transatlantic security alliance, the most effective, the most viable one in the world, the most successful one in the world. And we’re excited that the South Koreans are going to be there to talk about this. And as I said — to be part of the agenda there.
And as I said at the outset, it’s an indication of the linkage of global security between Europe and the Indo-Pacific. It’s — it’s not one or the other anymore. It’s not binary. The same kinds of assaults on territorial integrity and sovereignty that we’re seeing in Europe can happen in the Indo-Pacific. And, of course, our South Korean allies know that better than most.
So we think it’s significant that they’re going to be there. We’re excited to have them there. But this isn’t about — this isn’t about creating some like version of NATO in the Pacific.
Q Thanks. You just noted that the U.S. intends to continue, obviously, supporting Ukraine, but I’m wondering if — how much the administration is weighing its aid to Ukraine in terms of the economic hardships here at home, and if there’s a point at which the U.S. will curb its support for Ukraine down the line.
MR. KIRBY: Can you repeat the first part? How much what?
Q How much the administration is weighing its aid to Ukraine with the economic hardships that Americans are seeing here at home.
MR. KIRBY: That’s a — that’s a great question. So, you know, we just got an additional supplemental from Congress for $40 billion. Not all of that is designed for security assistance; a lot of it is for humanitarian assistance as well. And it was passed on a bipartisan basis.
It’s clear that members of Congress from both parties believe strongly that we have to continue to support Ukraine, and so we’re going to do that. And will we need to go back for additional funding? We just don’t know right now. I mean, war is, by nature, unpredictable. And so President Biden has made it clear we’re going to continue to support Ukraine as much as we can, as fast as we can. And we’re doing that. And we’ll see where this goes going forward.
But obviously, the President is not insensitive to the — to the pressures, particularly in gas and food prices, that the American people are facing. And you have to balance that, and he’s trying to strike that balance.
He said, and — I mean, he has said this since he said it — but when he made clear that we were going to support Ukraine in this fight, literally, for their lives, let alone their democracy, that there were going to be costs incurred by that. And we’re starting to see — we are seeing that — that happen right now. The President was nothing but honest with the American people about that.
Q Mr. Kirby, does the President support —
MR. JEAN-PIERRE: The gentleman in the blue. The gentleman in the blue.
Q Mr. Kirby, does the President —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We’ll get — we’ll get to you, Simon. Simon, right after the gentleman in the blue. Right behind her.
Q Thank you.
MR. KIRBY: They’re all in blue. (Laughs.)
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, this guy has, like, a light blue, aqua thing going on.
MR. KIRBY: Okay, I got you.
Q That’s how we’re deciding, by the way, is fashion?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Not fashion. Just pointing him out.
Q If it’s okay, I want to go off topic just for a second and ask you about a letter that’s been —
MR. KIRBY: Oh, great.
Q — a letter that’s been sent by Democratic senators to the President regarding the Shireen Abu Akleh killing, asking for a full U.S. investigation. I’m wondering if the NSC has seen this. Do you have a reaction? And do you support or agree with their assessment that the Israelis can’t be trusted to conduct their own investigation?
MR. KIRBY: I don’t know if the — I don’t know the status of the letter here at the White House, sir. So you’re going to have to let us take that question and get back to you. I’m not aware.
But I can tell you that we’ve been nothing but consistent that this death needs to be fully and transparently, thoroughly investigated. And that’s our expectation. We’ve made that very, very clear to all parties. And we’re going to continue to — continue to —
Q Is there any discussion about an independent U.S. investigation (inaudible)?
MR. KIRBY: I know of no discussion about an additional independent U.S. investigation.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Simon, go ahead.
Q Okay. On the Countering Malign Russian Activities in Africa Act that has been debated or prepared in the Senate to actually compel African nation to choose between Russia and the U.S., does the President support it? And is he concerned that by trying to almost compel African nations to choose between working with Russia and working with the U.S., he’s really making it difficult for those nations, especially because African nations have had really good relationships with the U.S. and good relationship with Russia at the same time?
MR. KIRBY: Look, every nation has to make a sovereign decision for itself, but — who it’s going to associate with.
Q But I’m talking about the act. The act says they will identify Africans who continue to work with Russia; it will identify government and sanction government that continue to work with Russia. So, I’m asking you, does the President support that act (inaudible)?
MR. KIRBY: I don’t — I don’t — I’d have to get back to you on that. I don’t know if we’ve taken a position on this pending legislation.
We understand that there are a range of security challenges in Africa. And those challenges aren’t getting any easier or any better by the involvement of nations like China and Russia on the continent. Every nation there has to make their own decisions about who they’re going to associate with.
Look, one of the things that — back to the G7 — that this partnership for infrastructure — the Global Partnership for Infrastructure that the — that the President is looking forward to actualizing will do is help economic development and infrastructure in places like that, that empower these nations to improve them — to improve their own situations and that of their citizens.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Last question. Go ahead, Niels.
Q Thank you. When — since we’ve been here, there’s been some reporting that the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday, when they were marking up the intelligence authorization, included a provision from Senator Wyden seeking to end the practice of denying security clearances based on past marijuana or cannabis use. I don’t know if the administration has seen that yet or if you have a — if there’s a position on that.
MR. KIRBY: You’re going to have to let me take that question, sir. I don’t have any for you on that.
James, why don’t you go ahead.
Q Thanks very much. I appreciate it. I wanted to ask two questions about Russia/Ukraine. First, I wonder if you could address a disparity that has exhibited itself in the President’s conduct and rhetoric over the course of the Russia-Ukraine crisis: At certain times, he opts to withhold certain lethal forms of assistance from the Ukrainian armed forces. And he says that he does this because to provide those forms of assistance would be to risk initiating World War Three. At other times he opts to provide more lethal forms of assistance and even boasts publicly, as has the Secretary of Defense and others, that it is this very U.S. aid that is helping the brave and skillful Ukrainian armed forces to inflict casualties on the Russians and to destroy their hardware.
So, my first question is: I wonder if you could address for us the President’s decision-making surrounding these steps up what you all have called the “escalatory ladder.”
MR. KIRBY: So, a couple of thoughts there. The one escalating here is Mr. Putin, James. He’s the one who decided on the 24th of February that he was going to invade a sovereign, independent nation next door. He’s the one who flowed in more than 100,000 troops and thousands of tanks, aircraft; has launched literally thousands of missiles into Ukraine. That’s the escalation.
And I think, quite frankly, I would, with all respect, take issue with the premise of the question — that we have been sort of not consistent in the kind of aid and assistance that we’ve been providing to Ukraine.
We are working with Ukraine in lockstep every day about what their capabilities — gaps are, what they need for the fight. And the reason, James, that we do it in parcels like this is so that we can keep it relevant to what’s going on on the battlefield.
And so you remember, in the opening weeks, everybody wanted to talk about Stingers and Javelins. And you know why? Because Stingers and Javelins were relevant to the fight at the time when Mr. Putin was advancing on Ukraine along three major geographic axes — north, south, and from the east.
He has now constrained and limited himself to the Donbas, to a flat, more rural environment that is very reliant on artillery. And so, we started flowing in howitzers.
The other thing that we started to do was to train on some of these systems. In the early goings, we were focused on systems that we knew the Ukrainians could use quickly because they’d already been trained on it, because they grew up with these systems. And so that’s why we’re working so hard with other countries to provide long-range air defense systems like the S-300, because that’s what they’re used to using.
So as the war has changed and evolved, which war does, their needs have changed and evolved, and our contributions have changed and evolved too.
Q And my follow-up, if I may. A few weeks into the conflict, the administration declassified and disclosed fresh intelligence — passed to us through a number of administration spokespeople, including yourself — suggesting that President Putin was receiving sanitized and inaccurate reporting from his own team about the status of the Russian war effort in Ukraine. Is that still your assessment? Or is it the assessment of the United States that somewhere along the line — and if you can tell us when, that would be helpful — President Putin rectified this problem? And do you believe that he has for some time now been receiving accurate reporting from his own team about the status of the war effort?
MR. KIRBY: We — we did provide some context about the intelligence reporting, which was relevant and true at the time. I don’t have additional intelligence or context on intelligence to provide today. So, I can’t tell you definitively exactly what briefings and reports Mr. Putin is getting and how accurate they are or inaccurate, or, frankly, how that information changes his decision-making calculus.
It is clear to us, just in the main, that he very much is in charge of this war; that he very much is making
the decisions; that he very much is responsible for the activities, the actions, the atrocities that his troops are conducting on the battlefield.
Q Thank you.
MR. KIRBY: Thanks, everybody. I got to go. Karine is going to —
Q What about Israel, Africa —
MR. KIRBY: — Karine is going to kick me out. I got to go.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Laughs.) We’ll never kick you out. Don’t forget —
MR. KIRBY: (Inaudible) my old-man glasses.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — your glasses.
MR. KIRBY: All right. Thanks, everybody.
Q Thanks, John.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Thanks, John. I just have one thing for all of you.
This morning, the number of Americans on insuredunemployment hit the lowest level since 1970 — lower than any year of the presidencies of Reagan, H.W. Bush, W. Bush, or Trump.
Today’s weekly UI data is consistent with a job market where unemployment is low and people can seamlessly find jobs. That’s not [at] all what a recession labor market looks like. We brought unemployment below 4 percent, four years faster than forecasters thought was possible before we passed the American Rescue Plan.
We have added an average more — on average more than 400,000 jobs per month in recent months. And as we make a transition to steady and stable growth over the course of the next year, even something closer to the range of 150,000 jobs per month would be consistent with an unemployment rate as low at is — at it is now and a sign of a healthy economic transition.
With that, Aamer, you want to kick us off?
Q Why yes. Thank you. On the Supreme Court decision today on New York’s concealed carry law, is the administration concerned that — and this comes, you know, on the cusp of major legislation here in Washington. But I was wondering if — is the administration concerned that for whatever efforts you might make on gun legislation — we’re now in an era of a conservative high court that’s going to probably be conservative-leaning for a while that is oriented towards gun owner rights. Are we now in a period where, for whatever the President may try, that gun owner rights are just going to be expanding?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, let me just say that we are disappointed by the Supreme Court’s ruling today. The Second Amendment, as you’ve heard the President say, is not absolute and permits commonsense gun regulation.
The Justice Department defended New York’s concealed carry law, which had been in place since 1911 and imposed only a modest burden on most gun owners. The law applied only to hand guns and public places and contained an exception for people who could establish an actual articulable need for self-defense.
Despite the setbacks, the President earlier urged states to continue to enact and enforce commonsense laws to make their citizens and communities safer for gun violence.
As it relates to what’s happening in Congress right now, we think that’s separate and apart, clearly. That is a bipartisan effort. The President is encouraged by what he is seeing. The cloture vote happened today, so it’s moving along in the right direction.
Look, when the President went to Uvalde, when he went to Buffalo with the First Lady, those are trips that he does not want to do again. The President understands. He’s had a long career in doing gun reform, in ending gun violence, since he was a senator.
We have not seen this type of — bipartisan type of coming together to push this legislation in decades, so we are definitely encouraged by what we’re seeing. And the President wants them to move quickly so it could get to his desk and he can sign that.
Q And if I could ask just one more. Secretary Granholm met with oil executives today. I guess, has peace between the administration and the oil executives broke out? And more importantly, have some concrete ideas come out of this meeting? And finally, just why did the President — he stopped by the wind executive meeting we were just in. Why didn’t he spend some time with the oil executives as well?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, let me take your — let me take your first question. And I have a bit of a readout for you here on the meeting.
So, at — at President Biden’s direction, Energy Secretary Granholm, who was in front of you all yesterday, met with the CEOs and executives of the seven major U.S. oil companies this morning at the Department of Energy headquarters in Washington, D.C. The meeting was a productive dialogue focused on creating an opportunity for industry to work with government to help deliver needed relief to American consumers.
The Secretary highlighted the fact that the U.S. has achieved record oil production under the Biden administration and that President Biden is taking historic actions — actions to add to that supply.
So, the Secretary made clear that the administration believes it’s imperative that companies increase supply of gas, and she reiterated that the President is prepared to act quickly and decisively using the tools available to him, as appropriate, on sensible recommendations as well.
So, this is an ongoing dialogue. I think you’ve heard — and some of you may have heard from the oil companies themselves saying it was productive. And so what — what Secretary Granholm has called on is for her team to continue having conversations with the oil companies.
As it relates to your second question — as to your second question: Look, the President — it was a stop-by. This is something that he does very often. It was — there were governors in that meeting who were virtual and in person.
So we see this as a — part of his schedule where there was actually a meeting here at the White House.
Q Just to follow on that, you’ve described this as, you know, a productive dialogue, they’re going to continue to have ongoing conversations. But should we take that to mean that there were no, sort of, concrete steps taken? I mean, yesterday you said that the hope was that some solutions —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q — would come of this. Where they able to identify and agree on any solutions?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, I think what we — what I was saying and Secretary Granholm was — was conveying as well: This is a first step, with — with a continued dialo- — dialogue.
Clearly, we want to come to solutions. And I think that’s going to — there’s going to be multiple other steps to get there.
Look, the President asked Secretary Granholm to do this so that we — that ideas can come forward and, hopefully, we can get to a solution. We want oil company to get to a higher capacity. That’s what we’re asking for, so that we can bring down gas prices, as you know, as we have been saying.
So they’re going to continue to have dialogue. And hopefully we get to a point where there is a solution and we can figure this out together.
Q And on the Supreme Court, as we await a decision on Roe, you know, you said that the administration is, you know, looking into options for executive action. I understand you’re not ready to detail what those might be, but does the administration have executive actions that are ready to go that we could expect to see if and when a decision is announced?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I appreciate the question, and it’s an important question, because this decision that we are all anticipating coming forth is — is going to be — it’s going to change so many lives, so many people’s lives, take away women’s rights.
So we — we understand the question. We are just still trying to figure — go through in having that discussion to see what our options are before we move forward.
We don’t want to get ahead of the President, clearly. But if — you know, and I’ve said this before — if indeed there is a — the Supreme Court, in the decision, the Dobbs decision, is — overturns Roe, we will ask Congress to restore Roe.
Q And just to be clear, will the President accept this decision as legitimate, even if he disagrees with it?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It — well, it’s going come from the Supreme Court, so it’s going to be a decision that we’re certainly going to respond to. So I’ll leave it at that. I mean, it’s just like any other Supreme Court decision, just like the one that they did today on guns.
So as we know, the — the draft was leaked, so we can’t really — you know, we don’t want to speak to that too much until there’s an actual decision, which we know is — is supposed to be coming. So we’re all, just like you, waiting to see when that happens.
But in the meantime, we’re doing our due diligence to be prepared. I just don’t have anything for you at this time.
Q Thanks. Back to the gas tax, since I see you have a —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh!
Q — a graphic up there on the screen.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh. Oh, my gosh. I have a graphic.
Q Was the President surprised or disappointed by the lukewarm reaction that his gas tax holiday proposal got on Capitol Hill?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I just want to step back for a second, because this is very important. So the President wanted to be sure and wanted to find a way to simply and straightforward — find a straightforward way to give consumers relief at the gas pump.
The next three months — this is a three-months, 90-day suspension on the gas tax — a gas tax holiday, as we — as we all know it’s called. And it’s an important time during — during when people are driving a lot around the country, you know, visiting their families, going on vacation. And so, you know, it is important to — to give people a little bit of relief.
If you think about it on the federal level, that’s 18 cents. He also called on states — we’ve seen some states — this is one of the states here, Maryland — do the same and average — and average — the average amount in states is about 30 cents. So already you’re at 48 cents right there, almost 50 cents.
That matters for people. That matters for people, like teachers, like healthcare aides, like — like construction workers, like plumbers, who — who spend a lot of time driving from one place to another as part of their jobs. That’s going to make a difference.
And if the oil refineries do their part, we’re looking at a dollar being taken off per gallon. So that — that matters. And we know it works. We know the policy works.
I mentioned Maryland up here. Connecticut has done the same. Georgia has done the same, suspended their gas tax — and most of their tax relief was passed to consumers.
And as you see from this chart here, you see when it was — here’s where it was when it was enacted, and then it dropped. And then when it end, it went back up. So it did make a difference.
So — so, the President is calling on other states to take similar measures and for Congress to suspend the national gas tax
on [and] oil companies to pass that relief on to consumers.
Q But Maryland is now actually getting ready to increase its gas tax next month, I guess to make up for some of the revenue that it lost when it imposed this gas tax holiday. And given the level of ambivalence or opposition on Capitol Hill, how hard is the President willing to fight to try to convince Congress to change its mind?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: This is important to the President, which is why he asked Congress to take this on. This is a — the way that we see it is a simple, fast way to give American families, the American public a little relief for 90 days.
As you know, there are — there are plenty of legislation that’s on the Hill right now that talks about cutting — cutting taxes. This is one of them. This is something that’s simple, that’s easy, that’s 90 days during a critical period for the American public.
Q So he’s going to keep fighting for it?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: He’s going to keep — he’s going to keep fighting for it. We think it’s a simple thing to do. And he’s going to keep fighting for it.
Q So, I wanted to go a little bit deeper on the trip or the ramifications of it. The President heads overseas at sort of a thorny time for his domestic agenda. You know, the gas tax holiday. There could be the first movement on gun reform in a generation. We’re all awaiting the Supreme Court decision.
Is there any concern about his ability to shepherd his domestic agenda from 4,000 miles away? Is there anything different being done, given how many, you know, balls are in the air at the same time?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, we believe that a president could do his job anyplace, anywhere, at any time. So that is not a concern for us. Clearly, yes, to your point, Cleve, there is a lot going on in the world. But that is what is expected of a president.
There is always multiple issues, sometimes multiple crises that a president has to deal with. But it doesn’t stop them for — from doing the work that they need to do.
The — what he’s doing abroad, as you heard from my colleague, is critical, is important — that leader-to-leader engagement, talking to our NATO Allies, being there at the G7, especially what’s going on with Russia’s war.
For the President to be there and to continue to be a leader in bringing those countries together and talk about real issues that matter to all sides is also an important — is an important agenda for the President to continue to move forward.
Q Sure. And to the second question, is there anything special or different being done about this trip as opposed to other foreign trips?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, because —
Q Given — given how many things are — yeah.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, not at all. We’re — we’re moving forward like we do with any OCONUS trip that we have had. I think this is — I’ve lost track — maybe the fourth or fifth trip, as you guys are probably keeping track better than I am, that the President has done.
And during a time — I mean, this past year and a half has not been an easy year. The President walked in having to turn back on the economy, if you will. He walked in having to deal with a COVID — a COVID crisis, a pandemic — once-in-a-generation pandemic. So he has had to deal with multiple things on his plate. So this is just part of another trip that he’s going on.
Let me try and — go ahead, Peter.
Q Thank you, Karine. The President isn’t really doing everything he can to bring gas prices down, is he?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I feel like there’s a — what — is there something else to the question? (Laughs.)
Q Oh, there’s a lot to the question.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, okay. Well —
Q For example —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q — as you mentioned earlier, he’s meeting today with people installing offshore wind equipment but not oil and gas CEOs who are rarely ever in town, but they are today. So how did that help lower gas prices?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, the President has done a — so let me step back for a second.
Q But — no, no, no —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, no, no —
Q Just by —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, no, on —
Q — by meeting with offshore wind folks —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, no. You’re asking me —
Q — and not with gas —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You’re asking me the question —
Q — oil and gas CEOs, how does that lower gas prices?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Peter. Peter.
Q You said he’s done everything in his power. They were a mile away.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Peter, you’re asking me a question. Let me — can I — may I answer?
Q Yes, please.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, here we go. I just want to take this back a second on how we got here, right? So we have seen gas prices go up by $2.00 a gallon. One of the reasons we have seen that — the reason we have seen that is because of Russia’s war in — in Ukraine.
And once that happened, once we saw what that impact was going to be, the President took action. He took action. He made his- — he made a historic choice to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve — 1 million barrels a day — and that was for six months. And that helped blunt the impact of what we’re seeing right now with prices going up. So that matters.
The — the ethanol 15 that the President — the action that the President took, that matters, because it’s going to — it’s going to bring down gas prices in gas stations — over 1,000 gas stations across the country, including the Midwest. That matters.
And so the President is trying to figure out and take — take steps in how we can bring the gas prices down. And we have a high level of oil production. So what we are asking the oil refinery companies to do is to take that — that production, turn it into — refine that oil so that there is capacity.
We are not at capacity right now. And it does matter that the Secretary of Energy, which is her purview — that is her portfolio, to meet with these oil execs, that she does on pretty regular basis.
Q But your point was about how we got here. The President said, as a candidate, “No more drilling on federal lands. No more drilling, including offshore. No ability for the oil industry to continue to drill, period.”
Wouldn’t that — aren’t some of those things that would bring the price of gas down now?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, let me tell you how we got here, since you just said how we got here. Due to a decreased demand at the start of the pandemic, U.S. oil companies reduced production and refining capacity, which is what I was just saying, Peter.
Refiners, for instance, cut their capacity by more than 800,000 barrels per day in the year before the President took office.
Oil production is now back — back to near pre-pandemic levels. In fact, we produced more oil in the first year of the President’s administration than in the first two years of the previous administration. And we are on track to set a new record for oil production next year this time. But oil refiners have still not brought refinery capacity back online.
At the same time, as I was just stating to you about Putin’s war, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine disrupted the global oil supply, and gas prices have gone up nearly to $2.00 since the beginning of the year, before the invasion.
President Biden has taken historic actions, again, to alleviate the pressure and to blunt what — the impacts that we have seen because of Putin’s war. And that matters. And that’s what the President has been focused on.
Q Okay. And the President, yesterday, was talking about this transition to greener energy someday. A lot of people can’t afford a $60,000 electric car, and they also are having a hard time affording gas right now. That sounds like a painful transition. So how much of that kind of pain is the President okay with?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, that transition — we are in a transition to clean energy. That is something that — that is important. It is going to create jobs, when you think about electric vehicles. It is going to give — give families some — some tax credits. It’s going to be really important to have —
Q But right now, who can afford an electric car? The average price is $61,000.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: What we’re going to continue to move forward with, and what — we have put forward the bipartisan infrastructure —
Q Is that a realistic — is that the choice: $5.00-a-gallon gas or a $61,000 electric car?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That is not — first of all, you’re — that’s apples and oranges. It is not the same. What we’re trying to do right now is to deal with an acute problem right now, which is why the President, again, asked for a 90-day suspension of the gas tax — the gas tax holiday. It is going to make a difference.
Peter, we’re talking about 18 cents on the federal — on the federal level; we’re talking about an average of 30 cents on the state level. And if the oil refinery does their job, if they do what we are asking them to do, which is put their profits back in so that gas prices can go down — that’s almost $1.00 per gallon. That matters. That matters to teachers, that matters to home healthcare aides, that matters to construction workers, that matters to plumbers, that matters to lifeguards. Those are the people that — and many others — who are going to feel this in a way that will give them relief at the pump.
All right. We’re done.
Q A Supreme Court follow-up?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q On the Granholm meeting, the refiners wanted to dissuade the White House from any sort of ban on fuel exports. Did Granholm agree to that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m sorry, I was distracted. Can you say that one more time, Steve?
Q The ban on fuel exports — the refiners don’t want that. Was that discussed at the meeting today? Did Secretary Granholm agree to set it off the table?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I can tell you, Steve, that decision has not been made. There’s no decision on that at this time.
Q And secondly, on the gas tax holiday, has the President talked to lawmakers today about this to try to get them on his side?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I don’t have any meetings to preview for you at this time, but we are going to — our Office of Leg Affairs is in constant communication with folks on the Hill. So that is going to be an ongoing conversation. And the President — this is something that the President thinks is going to be really important for the American people, to give them that relief — a little bit of breathing room, as you’ve heard the President.
I’m just going to take a couple more. Go ahead.
Q On refinery capacity, refiners right now are operating at about 93, 94 percent capacity. When you talk about asking them to increase their capacity, bringing other refineries online is not as simple as flipping a switch. Do you want them to take 93, 94 percent up to 98 percent? How are you guys thinking through the problem as it exists in terms of what they can do?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So there’s a difference between the share of existing capacity being utilized and the amount of total capacity available. The overall capacity of the U.S. refining industry fell due to the pandemic, which is what I was going through earlier. And that capacity has not been brought back online, even as consumers’ demand has returned thanks to the President’s recovery plan.
So, the President is calling, again, on U.S. refiners to increase capacity and output in the near term, and making clear he is committed to using all reasonable tools and authorities, as appropriate, to help.
And so there is a difference there. And so we’re asking them to increase that capacity, which we have not seen yet.
Q Bringing those back online, one of the issues has been, you know, willing to invest on the capex side. Is the administration looking anything on the regulatory side they think they can do to help that process along?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I don’t have anything here to share on what else we might be looking at. Again, the President is willing to use his — his executive authorities. We just haven’t made a decision. We want to come to a resolution here, or a solution. That’s why Secretary Granholm had this meeting today. We’re — they’re going to continue to have the discussion. And so that’s what we would prefer, and so that’s where — the direction that we’re going.
At the same time, making sure that, you know, the gas — that gas tax holiday, making sure that we’re doing other things as well, to do our part. Again, the gas tax holiday is a — is a — is a — one of the solution, right? It’s not the whole thing. We’ve done a series of things, and the President is going to continue to see what else he can — he can do to give relief to the American people.
Go ahead. I’m just going to take a couple more.
Q Does the administration have any response to Intel announcing that it is indefinitely delaying the groundbreaking of its very large semiconductor facility in Ohio?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have any — I don’t have any more information on that. I heard that reporting. I would have to check in with our — with our team. But I don’t have anything for — to share from the podium today.
Q One of the things that has come up before today’s meeting with Secretary Granholm was Jones Act waivers. Is that something that was discussed in the meeting, or do you know if that’s still on the table for the President?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have more to share from — from the meeting, from what I just read out.
Q So we don’t know whether it was —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I just don’t have anything from what I just read out.
Q But the President hasn’t ruled it out?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I just don’t have anything for you right now, Josh.
Q Okay. Then, going to Phil’s question, I mean, part of the reason capacity has shrunk is because facilities are being converted to produce — or some of them are being converted to produce renewable diesel instead of petroleum-based fuels.
Others are simply, you know, old. They’re like old cars being taken off the road. They can’t just turn on again.
Do you think those conversions should be reversed or halted? Or do you think the refiners are overstating the sort of pain that they’d have to go through to turn off — turn on some of these plants again?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: What we believe is that they are not operating at full capacity. That is what we believe. And, you know — so, just to give you a little bit here, and I said this yesterday and I’m happy to share it again: You know, as of yesterday, I said crude oil prices have dropped by nearly 15 percent from two weeks ago, but prices at the pump have barely budged.
The last time the price of crude oil was $110 a barrel and the price of gas was $4.60 a gallon. Today, it’s about 35 cents higher.
That difference is a result of companies’ record-high profit margins for refining oil. Refinery margins have tripled since the beginning of the year. It’s just the first three months of this year. The biggest oil companies made $35 billion — four times what they made in their first quarter of last year. We want them to put their profits back into refining oil so that we can bring prices down. And that is what we are seeing. And, you know, there are 9,000 approved drilling permits that remain unused.
So, there are things that — that could be done that we are just not seeing happen. This is why we’re having the conversation. This is why the President wrote the letter.
I’m just going to try and get other questions.
Q Sure. But on the G7 very quickly: One of the things the President has tried to do is boost gas shipments to Europe that aren’t coming from Russia. Is there any discussion about that that we should expect at the G7, or is that more of a medium-term thing?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I just don’t have more to add. I don’t want to get ahead of what the agenda is going to be on G7.
Q Thanks, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No problem. Thanks, Josh.
Q In terms of ensuring that savings from any sort of gas tax holiday would be passed along to the consumers, Secretary Granholm seemed to say yesterday that the administration, at least at first, would be relying on asking them, like just dialogue with these companies. Is it the White House’s view that that is the only option to actually ensure savings are passed on to the consumer? Or is there anything Congress can mandate, or any regulatory action you could do to force these companies?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, I mean, I can’t speak to what Congress could do to mandate it. Here’s what we know: We know that this has worked. It’s worked in Maryland. It’s worked in Connecticut. It’s worked in Georgia. Maryland and Georgia are Republican governors who have this — who have made that decision, and consumers have felt the relief. So, it’s doable. We have examples of doing that.
And so — so, we’re going to — like Secretary Granholm said, we’re going to talk to — we’re going to talk to the companies and make sure that the families and the American people should feel that directly. They should not be holding on to any of the — to any of the funds, any of that 18 cents at the federal government.
Q But at this point, though, is that the only option for the administration — just to ask those companies?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: At this point, that’s basically what Secretary Granholm stated, is where we are at this point.
Q On expanding capacity of refineries as well, you’ve talked about the need — you know, the need to do that, but there are some options the administration could take. There’s a refinery that has had plenty of accidents in the past, has sparked environmental concerns. And, you know, some have said the administration could also loosen permit regulations. This refinery is in St. Croix, Virgin Islands; it’s had environmental concerns in the past. Would the administration consider loosening any permitting regulations for refineries that have had environmental concerns to expand capacity?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We don’t have anything to share on the two points that you just made. All I can say is the President is willing to use his executive authority to do what he can to give relief to the American public.
Right now, we’re focused on — on calling on Congress to do the gas holiday tax — or the gas tax holiday, and also having this conversation with oil refinery to make sure that they are refinery — refining that crude oil that is — that is at a high level, that they can do to help bring down gas prices.
And I’ll take one last question.
Q A Supreme Court follow-up, Karine?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m trying to call — go ahead. I’ve never called on you before.
Q Thanks, Karine. I know you’ve addressed this a little bit before, but I’m wondering if you can kind of quantify how much of these January 6th hearings the President’s been watching and what his overall reaction is.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I can say that, you know, the President catches it from time to time. He’s — you know, he has a busy schedule, obviously — and we have said this before — and keeps updated on what’s happening.
You know, we’ll just continue to reiterate that what we saw on January 6, 2020, was one of the darkest chapters of our nation. And it was a brutal attack on our democracy, a brutal attack on law enforcement, and we believe that Americans should be watching and paying attention to learn exactly what happened on that day.
And we have full confidence in the January 6th Select Committee and the work that they’re doing.
Okay. Thanks, everybody. We’ll be back tomorrow. I’ll be back tomorrow.
4:50 P.M. EDT