Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:37 P.M. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. All right, I just have one item for all of you at the top, which is the week ahead. And I know there are a few topics to discuss today during our time together.
On Monday, the President will host a celebration to mark Black History Month. He will be joined by the Vice President, Black members of the historically diverse Cabinet, members of the Congressional Black Caucus, state and local elected officials, civil rights leaders, and Divine Nine leadership.
On Tuesday, as you are all tracking, the President will deliver his first State of the Union Address. We will have more of his address to preview in the coming days.
On Wednesday, the President and the First Lady will travel to Superior, Wisconsin, to discuss how the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law delivers for the American people by rebuilding roads and bridges and creating good-paying union jobs.
And on Thursday, the President will hold a Cabinet meeting.
With that, Zeke, why don't you kick us off?
Q: Thanks, Jen. The EU, earlier today, agreed to hold -- put in place sanctions and asset freezes on the Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian foreign minister. Is the United States going to follow suit?
MS. PSAKI: Following a televisi- -- a telephone conversation President Biden held with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and in alignment with the decision by our European Allies, the United States will join them in sanctioning President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov and members of the Russian national security team. I expect we'll have more specific details out later this afternoon.
Q: Thanks. And additionally, can you detail the level of support the United States government is currently providing operationally to the Ukrainian military and intelligence services as they try to fend off the Russian invasion? Is the U.S. continuing to send weaponry into Ukraine? Is it providing intelligence on Russian movements and tactical communications and the like?
MS. PSAKI: Well, without getting into too many specific details that are sensitive for a range of reasons, we are continuing to deliver on the security assistance package that was announced earlier last fall. All of that has not been delivered yet. We're continuing to provide that assistance.
Obviously, we are -- we remain in very close touch, of course, with -- with President Zelenskyy. I think you may have just seen the readout that we just put out that included the President spoke with him earlier today again. And we are in very close touch, from our national security team, with members of his team as well. And we continue to -- to consider a range of options to provide additional assistance.
Q: And President Zelenskyy, last night, said he was "target number one" of the Russian military. Does the United States have -- sort of have a warning to Russia in the event that -- in the event they were to target the Ukrainian president or attempt to capture him or to physically harm him?
MS. PSAKI: Do we have a warning to them?
Q: A warning to Russia, yes -- specifically regarding the head of state.
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that we have been warning for months that -- for weeks, if not months -- that Kyiv falling, that attempts to overturn the leadership of Ukraine is very much in the aspirations of President Putin.
So his -- their attempts to do exactly that and their continued progress in moving toward Kyiv and moving toward Ukrainian leadership is aligned with what we have predicted.
Obviously, going after the head of state would be a significant, horrific act by Russian leadership.
But we remain in contact, as you all have seen from the readout we provided, with President Zelenskyy. He's made clear that he's still in Ukraine, proudly and courageously standing up in the face of the Russian attack. And we are -- certainly continue to be concerned about the ongoing Russian assault on the country.
Q: Just on a different topic: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention right now is announcing new federal mask guidelines that -- including, under them, 70 percent or so of Americans right now live in areas where they are no longer recommended to wear masks indoors in public settings.
Is that guidance that will be followed here in the White House as Washington, D.C., is now not an area recommended anymore for wearing masks indoors.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, we are evaluating our protocols. Obviously, this guidance is just going out now as we speak. I believe Dr. Walensky continues to provide a briefing call with some of your colleagues right now.
D.C. currently has a mask mandate until March 1st. We have always followed the most stringent guidelines -- that has typically been the CDC. So, we will plan to follow that. And in the meantime, we will -- we are evaluating our protocols here at the White House.
Q: Thanks, Jen. On President Zelenskyy, did -- in President Biden's phone call with him, did it come up whether -- did President Biden bring up whether President Zelenskyy -- he thinks he should leave the country or not for his own safety?
MS. PSAKI: That is not -- I don't have any additional details to provide. President Zelenskyy continues to serve as President of Ukraine. He continues to do that courageously in the face of attacks from Russian military.
This was a call for the President to reiterate our strong support for him, for the Ukrainian people, and to reiterate and condemn the actions of the Russians.
Q: And on sanctioning Putin and Lavrov: Yesterday, President Biden had said that that was on the table. What changed between yesterday and today?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it has been under consideration and on the table for some time, as you know. And as I just conveyed, the President's strong view and strong principle from the beginning of this conflict -- and even before, I should say -- has been to take actions and steps in alignment with our European partners, and this is certainly evidence of that.
Q: And just finally, on that one: What does sanctioning Putin himself do in this -- in the opinion of this administration? A lot of analysts have said that this is more of a symbolic move than anything.
MS. PSAKI: Well, without getting into any specific details -- I know you're not exactly asking me this, but sort of -- about financial assets, et cetera -- I will leave that to others to speak to -- certainly, the United -- this step that we are doing in alignment and in coordination with Europeans just sends a clear message about the -- the strength of the opposition to the actions by President Putin and the direction in his leadership of the Russian military.
Q: Yeah. Just wanted to ask -- continuing the questions on sanctions --
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q: Today, we saw that the Italian government and the German government both expre- -- said very clearly that they would not veto a move to remove Russia from the SWIFT transaction system.
Can you say a word about how quickly you think something like that would happen and whether you believe that that would be another productive tool and perhaps another moment -- you know, symbolic or, rather, an important measure?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, again, the President's principle is doing -- taking steps in alignment. We are stronger together, especially as we stand in the face of the Russian military's actions and -- and their invasion of Ukraine.
As it relates to SWIFT, we've never taken that off the table, of course, and I'm certainly not taking it off the table today. So, certainly, there'll be ongoing discussions about that.
As you know, SWIFT is a messaging service that connects 11,000 banks. And many would argue that there are ways that -- that Russia -- the Russian leadership could get around that over the course of time, but it certainly remains an option on the table.
In terms of the timeline, I don't have anything to predict for you on that.
Q: We were -- also reported today that China has actually increased its reserves as opposed to releasing reserves, which could help, perhaps, with the energy price increases that we're seeing. Have you had -- you know, what do you -- what do you think of that move?
And then also, has there been any further communication? Does President Biden intend to talk to President Xi? Or can you say a word about what -- what you're doing in terms of trying to convince the Chinese to be supportive?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would note that, also today, the I- -- the IEA had an informal meeting where they discussed options they could take over the coming days and weeks to help address any volatility in the global markets and, you know, the heightening of price volatility.
And certainly, that meeting today was a chance to consult and continue coordination with partners on global energy supply and security.
There's also continuing conversations that we have had from here with partners over the past day. Secretary Granholm spoke with French, German, EU, and UK counterparts yesterday and will continue those conversations.
As it relates to China, you know, I would say that the President's view, of course, is that now is the time for leaders of the world to not just speak out clearly against President Putin's flagrant aggression and to stand with the people of Ukraine, but this is not a moment for evo- -- equivocation or hiding or waiting to see what happens next.
It is already clear what's happening. And as a part of that, it's also important to be a part of the effort to mitigate and minimize the impact on global markets and gloi- -- global oil markets.
And so, I don't have any additional conversations to read out for you. But I would say, certainly, we all want to be a part of the solution here and stand up in the face of aggression to help address the problems.
Q: Are you saying that China is, in fact, equivocating?
MS. PSAKI: All I'm saying is that every country should think about what side of history they want to be on here, and they have the ability to do that.
Q: When did President Biden make the final decision to sanction President Putin?
MS. PSAKI: It was made -- it's been on the table for some time, but through coordination and discussion with our European partners over the last day or so.
Q: So he decided in the last 24 hours that he was going to do that?
MS. PSAKI: Again, it's been on the table for some time. His priority and his focus has been on taking steps in coordination. And obviously, that decision was made over the course of the last 24 hours and in partnership with our European counterparts.
Q: Does it include a travel ban, by chance?
MS. PSAKI: I believe that would be a part of the U.S. component. Yes.
Q: So President Putin would be banned from traveling here.
MS. PSAKI: There is more details of it that, again, will be out later today. There are very limited examples of this being done, as you all know, but that is a standard part. But again, there'll be more details we will have available later today.
Q: Another question on travel. The UK is banning civilian Russian aircraft from its airspace, saying that no aircraft on a service owned, operated, or chartered -- chartered by a person connected with Russia shall fly in their airspace.
Is the United States planning to do the same?
MS. PSAKI: I'm not aware of that being in the plans, but I don't have anything to preview for you.
Q: Okay. And another question. We've seen these predictions from the Defense Department, from the State Department about Kyiv falling to Russia. They've made clear that they believe that is in Putin's sights and that he wants to overthrow the government there.
If that happens, what does the U.S. do? What is the response and the role that the United States takes after something like that happens?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would just reiterate, as we've been warning for months, that Kyiv falling is a real possibility. And we've continued to see Russia's progression, even as we've seen resistance on the ground, Russians' military continu- -- Russia's military continues to advance toward Kyiv. So there is that real possibility.
I'm just not going to get into, at this point, hypotheticals of what that will look like or what our response would be.
Q: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q: Thank you, Jen. I just want to follow up on the Putin sanctions again --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q: -- based on what you've said so far. So, was this decision to coordinate with Allies meant to show unity, meant to show that Putin is a pariah? Or do you think it will actually have an impact on Putin in practice, given the uncertainty about the extent and location of his wealth?
MS. PSAKI: Sure, I understand what you're asking; I'm just not going to get into specifics about his financial assets from here.
Again, I think what is important and what we are hoping the world takes away from this is the unity through which the United States, President Biden is working with our European partners and Allies.
Q: Without getting into details, can you even say if this will or will not impact him, other than showing that he's, you know, an outlier?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I'm not going to get into his personal financial assets. That's typically not something we would do from here. But I would note, again, that the steps that were taken yesterday and announced yesterday -- sanctioning the 10 largest financial -- 10 of the largest financial institutions in Russia, accounting for a huge percentage of their banking capacity, what -- of their financial system capacity, I should say -- and even the anticipation of that has had enormous impact on Russia, whether it's the currency -- the Ruble -- that has fallen, the markets, skyrocketing inflation in Russia.
And we also have taken steps to sanction oligarchs around President Putin -- people who have benefited from corruption and cronyism in the system -- and even their family members to prevent them from having the capacity to move around their assets.
Q: And on the Supreme Court today -- news of the day: It was exactly two years ago today that the President made a pledge that he would nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court. Did he factor the timing of that into his decision to announce it today?
MS. PSAKI: No.
And then can you share any details about the process --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q: -- now that it's over?
MS. PSAKI: Finally, we're free.
Q: Like, you know, how long the interview or interviews were, what they talked about, what led the President to choose Judge Jackson over the other candidates.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Well, I will share with you the details that we're comfortable sharing at this point in time. And obviously, Judge Jackson will have -- be filling out a range of questionnaires. She will be testifying. She will be considered by the full Senate, and she will be asked a range of questions there.
The President interviewed Judge Jackson, Judge Childs, and Judge Kruger on Monday, February 14th, in person. He made his final decision and called Judge Jackson last night -- last evening. I would note it was after the press briefing last evening.
The President called Leader Schumer, Senator McConnell, Speaker Pelosi, and Whip Clyburn -- all separately -- this morning to inform them of his decision.
I'd also note that the Vice President has been very engaged not just in the decision-making process, as the President talked about during his remarks, but she called former President Obama and former President Clinton as well. And she has also been calling a range of members of Congress as a part of the announcement process.
Q: Just one more. Did he personally call Kruger and Childs to let them know that he had chosen Judge Jackson?
MS. PSAKI: I don't have any other details on that. But I can tell you that he called Judge Jackson to offer her the -- to tell her he was going to nominate her last evening.
Q: Thank you, Jen. The State Department just said, about the U.S. and Russia, that there are still some areas in which the fulfillment of our national security priorities and imperatives require us to engage and coexist. How is it that we are still engaging and coexisting with the Russians?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Peter, I would say diplomacy around the world requires us to engage with countries, even where we have strong disagreements, strong opposition, strong condemnation.
We've been very outspoken and taken actions against China's human rights abuses, but we have worked with them in other capacities.
We are working -- Russia is a part of the P5+1, as we're working and making progress on an Iran nuclear deal. There's no question that achievement of that would make the world safer.
So it is our responsibility. And -- and diplomacy means engaging even with countries where you have strong disagreement and strong opposition.
Q: And just so that we can understand, then, the approach: That means that you guys will sit here and sanction Vladimir Putin and then send diplomats to go sit on the same side of the table with the Russians to hash out the Iran deal. Is that what's happening?
MS. PSAKI: That's right, Peter, but I don't know why you sound so skeptical. What our job here in the United States and from any government is to take steps that are in the interest of the American people and the United States of America. And part of that is -- would certainly be reducing Iran's capacity and ability to have a nuclear weapon. I think there's no question about that. Russia is a part of the P5+1.
Q: Okay. There's a report in The New York Times that you guys kept asking China to help you stop Russia from invading Ukraine and they didn't. So, what have you guys done throughout this slow-moving Russia crisis that has worked?
MS. PSAKI: In what capacity?
Q: Well, the President talked to Putin. He talked to the G7. He threatened sanctions. He put sanctions in place. Now he says the sanctions are going to take 30 days or about a month. Do you guys think that people in Ukraine have about a month?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Peter, let me just take a step back and explain to everyone how diplomacy works and how our approach from the United States has worked.
What the President has done is he has built a global coalition to stand up in the face of President Putin and President Putin's aggression and invasion of Ukraine. What he has done is he has rallied the world, our European partners -- even at cost to them, in some capacities -- to put in place significant sanctions, historic sanctions that would have a enormous impact on the Russian financial sector.
It is President Putin's choice to go to war and invade Ukraine. That is what he has done. It is our choice and our responsibility and the role of the President and the United States to rally opposition and make sure they feel significant pain from that choice. That's exactly what we have done.
Q: And I understand that you're saying that these sanctions will have an impact on Russia, but what good does that do these people in Ukraine who are seeing the news and these U.S. intel assessments that Kyiv is going to fall any day?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Peter, first of all, we are the largest provider of humanitarian assistance, of security assistance in the world to the Ukrainian -- to the Ukrainian government, which still stands and support -- and the biggest supporter of the Ukrainian people. And we will continue to be. And we are leading this global effort to stand up against the aggression of President Putin.
And so we are doing -- the President is doing nearly everything in his power to lead the world and stand up against the actions of President Putin.
What he will not do is send U.S. troops to fight in Ukraine, because he is not going to put the American public, the American people, or the United States in a position of fighting a war with Russia.
Q: If I can ask you about -- we've been watching a lot of pictures play out from overseas. We've seen anti-war protesters rounded up and arrested in Moscow and elsewhere throughout Russia. We've seen awful pictures coming from throughout Ukraine, including one today that was dramatic of a Russian tank literally rolling over a Ukrainian civilian vehicle. Can you just give us a sense -- is the President watching this happen? His reaction to this? His message to those anti-war protesters?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I mean, it's -- there are -- it's horrific to watch. It's heart wrenching to watch. And we've all seen the images -- the President, the Vice President, members of our national security team.
And it almost doesn't matter how much you've been through or how many conflicts you've watched over time -- and he has unfortunately watched many in a variety of national security roles -- to feel heartbroken by what you're seeing in -- happen in Ukraine, in a sovereign country that is -- is having its right to exist threatened by Russia -- the aggressor in this case.
You know, I would say our message to the Ukrainian people continues to be that we stand with you; we support you; we are going to do everything -- humanitarian assistance, economic assistance, continue to provide security assistance and rally the world to condemn the actions of President Putin.
Q: And to the anti-war protesters in Russia?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I think we would say that we are -- we are amazed by your courage -- your remarkable courage in standing up against what President Putin is doing. It is not easy to protest in many scenarios, but it's certainly not easy to protest against the actions of an autocratic leader. And that's exactly what these protesters are doing.
Q: There's a large room; I'll ask only one last question, which is -- as a relates to the Supreme Court --
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q: -- following up on the questions here: The President wanted it to be a bipartisan process. He's met with many Republicans -- Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on Senate Judiciary Committee; three Republicans helped confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson in the spring of last year. One of them, Lindsey Graham, today said, among other things, that this selection "means the radical left has won President Biden over yet again." The White House's response?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what's most important for everybody to know and understand is more about Judge Jackson's record.
And what was very compelling to -- and to go back to Weijia's question -- sorry, I didn't answer this part -- what was compelling to the President -- I talked to him about -- with him about this this morning, and you heard him lay this out in great detail in his remarks: You know, Judge Jackson is someone who very much is in the mold of Justice Breyer, having even clerked for him. She talked about that during his remarks. When she was confirmed as a district judge in 2013, Judge Breyer praised her for being a wise decision and swore her in, and even parts of their biography overlap -- time on the Sentencing Commission, time as a federal judge.
But it's also how she has approached her role as a judge that was very compelling to the President. She's issued opinions without regard to partisan considerations. She's ruled in favor of Republicans and Democrats. She's ruled for and against the government, regardless of whether the government is led by a Democratic president or a Republican president. Litigants, lawyers, and judges across the ideological spectrum appreciate her ability to be an impartial adjudicator. And that's exactly what you want as a judge. She's even clerked for three different federal judges who were appointed by presidents of different political parties.
So, I would just note all of that to suggest that, you know, anyone who is already ruling her out, without even meeting with her, engaging with her, and reviewing her extensive record as a fair and just judge, you know, there may be other reasons for that.
Q: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q: Thanks. Does the U.S. -- do you have any update on the hostages that were reported to be taken at Chernobyl (inaudible) yesterday -
MS. PSAKI: In Chernobyl? I unfortunately don't have an update on that from here at this point. I can check for you after the briefing.
Q: And does the U.S. have any plans to speed up the refugee processing for Ukrainians that do want to come to the U.S., as they did with Afghans that wanted to come to the U.S.?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it's a slightly different circumstance, I will say, because our assessment is that the majority of refugees will want to go to neighboring countries in Europe, many of which have already conveyed publicly that they will accept any refugee who needs a home, whether it's Poland or Germany, and there are probably others who have made those comments.
So, we are really working in close lockstep with our European counterparts about what the needs are and how to help, from our end, meet those needs. We -- that certainly means an openness to accepting refugees from Ukraine but also making sure that all of these neighboring countries who are willing to welcome these refugees, you know, have our support in that effort.
Q: Thanks, Jen. I know the White House has said it won't be sending -- the U.S. won't be sending troops into Ukraine to rescue Americans who are still there, so what is the U.S. doing about Americans who are still left in Ukraine as the situation gets more dire?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we -- I will first start by saying that we have been warning for months now about the dire circumstances developing in Ukraine and conveying very directly to American citizens they should leave. We have also been in touch, from the State Department, with every American we can reach. I would point you to them for more specifics on that. And we continue to have the capacity to, you know, help them in a range of ways, even as we don't have a diplomatic presence in Ukraine in th- -- I mean, we don't have people in the country right now, obviously, but they are in neighboring countries.
I would really point you to the State Department for any more specifics.
Q: And the President is obviously now going to be in Delaware this weekend. Can you share what he will be doing there? Will he be traveling with members of his national security team? Will he be receiving regular updates on Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. He will have a meeting with members of his national security team tomorrow in Delaware. I will note that, while every president can work from anywhere they are, because that is how presidencies are equipped, he is traveling to Delaware for the memorial service of a family member. And he will be -- that is why he's traveling there this weekend.
Q: Just to follow up on that question: Does the President have special secure facilities in Wilmington? We know that, obviously, at Camp David that is something available. Given the national security crisis, is that something that is also available?
MS. PSAKI: The President has the capacity to make a secure call from anywhere he is, yes.
Q: Okay. And then, on the Supreme Court: How important is it to the President that the -- Judge Jackson receives bipartisan support if she is confirmed? And how much political capital and time and energy is he personally going to put into getting Republican support for her nomination?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Tyler, let me flip this around a little bit for you and just say the President's view is that when you look at somebody like Judge Jackson, who has -- is extraordinarily qualified, has impeccable credentials; she has been lauded by former Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, who said on her behalf last -- when she was put forward last year, "I know she's clearly qualified. But it bears repeating just how qualified she is… Our politics may differ, but my praise for Ketanji intellect, for her character, for her intellect [integrity] is unequivocal."
That she is somebody who has -- and I would also note, that former D.C. District Judge Thomas Griffith, appointed by President George W. Bush, publicly supported her D.C. Court nomination. And she received a bipartisan letter of support from individuals who co-clerked along Judge Jackson.
So I think the bar here should not be what is the President going to do -- of course, he's going to engage with Democrats and Republicans; you've seen him operate in that way to date -- it is what are Republicans going to do, in terms of considering an eminently qualified judge that the President has nominated, who, by many standards, has exhibited -- has shown herself to issue opinions without regard to partisan considerations and ruled in a way that certainly anyone, regardless of their political affiliation, would be proud to see.
Q: And then just one more quick one on the State of the Union. How much is that speech being changed by the Russia-Ukraine crisis? Can you just give us a little bit of a preview about what we may hear from the President on Tuesday?
MS. PSAKI: I certainly understand the question, but I can't give you a preview of a speech four days from now quite yet about -- and how it will address a developing conflict.
Q: Yeah, President Biden stated from the outset and you've reiterated today that he won't send U.S. troops to Ukraine to fight Russians. Given the high stakes, you know, President Biden yesterday said Russia has aspirations beyond Ukraine. Why isn't this a fight worth sending U.S. troops for? Why, in your as- -- in -- why has the President assessed that shouldn't be an option?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say first, it's important to note that we have certainly made clear, not just by words but by actions, that we are going to continue to support and even plus up our support for NATO defense operations. And there was an announcement yesterday of an increase of additional 7,000 troops. And obviously, there was a significant announcement made today by NATO. We are firm -- we will firmly stand behind our Article 5 obligations.
But I would say, as it relates to sending U.S. troops into Ukraine, the President -- the role of the President of the United States -- any president -- is to make an assessment about what is in the interests of the United States, our national security interests, the American people, and certainly weigh very heavily how we're leading the global community. But it is not in our interest to be in a war with Russia. And so, no, we are not sending U.S. troops to Ukraine.
Q: But by stating up front that this is not an option, didn't President Biden take away what could have been a threat to deter Putin from invading and to further push into Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: I think the President believes he has a responsibility to be very direct with the American people about what his intentions are and what his intentions are not, and that is his first priority as President.
Q: And finally, what was the White House's reaction to President Zelenskyy, today, in a video address, saying that Ukraine has, quote, "been left alone to defend itself against Russia"?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, the President spoke with President Zelenskyy and made clear to him during that conversation that he -- and he commended his brave leadership, his brave actions, the brave actions of the Ukrainian people who are fighting to defend their country.
He also conveyed our ongoing economic, humanitarian, and security support that we will continue to provide.
So that is hardly standing on the sidelines. We are providing -- again, the largest provider of security, economic, humanitarian assistance of any country in the world. And we will continue to support President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people.
Q: So the White House doesn't think he's been left alone?
MS. PSAKI: I think I'll leave it at that.
Q: Thanks a lot, Jen. Does the administration have any plans to offer TPS to Ukrainians who are in the United States or who en- -- who might end up coming to the United States? Does it support the idea?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there -- it's a process that would be overseen by the interagency through -- go through an interagency process, led by the Department of Homeland Security. I know there are many advocates for that, but I don't have an update on the process or if it will happen.
Q: What plans does the administra- -- and on -- in regard to refugees --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q: -- what plans does the administration have to take in -- for the United States to take in some refugees in the United States? Have there been any planning discussions, perhaps with refugee groups, to prepare this? Do you -- do you have an anticipated number of how many refugees may come to the U.S.?
MS. PSAKI: I don't have an updated -- an anticipated number to project. What I will convey to you is that we are always in constant contact with the refugee organizations, who do incredible work around the world.
But I would also reiterate that what we've seen happen over the last couple of days is countries like Poland, Germany, and others in Europe make clear that they are going -- they are opening their arms to welcome refugees from Ukraine. Those are neighboring countries. So we do anticipate the vast majority will want to go to countries in Europe.
Q: But you do anticipate that some would come to the United States?
MS. PSAKI: We are open to that, yes.
Q: Okay. And if I could ask one more. Senator Coons floated the idea of 10 billion -- a $10 billion emergency supplemental package. Just, does the administration support that proposal?
MS. PSAKI: We are having ongoing conversations with Congress about additional assistance to Ukraine. Our OMB leadership is having those conversations. And so, I will leave it to them to put out any updated specific number from our end, but they're -- those are underway.
Q: Why doesn't President Biden want to talk to Vladimir Putin right now?
MS. PSAKI: Because he's invading a sovereign country.
Q: But he -- isn't he going to be potentially invading that for years on end?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that a moment where a leader is beginning and in the middle of invading a sovereign country is not the moment where diplomacy feels appropriate. It does not mean we have ruled out diplomacy forever. Obviously, the President remains open to engaging on -- at a leader-to-leader level, but this is not the moment.
Q: And why are you guys waiting to apply maximum pressure on Russia with -- you know, sanctions on everything? It doesn't seem -- you know, are you guys waiting for Kyiv to fall? Or (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Sanctions on everything? How do you mean?
Q: In -- like sanctions on all Russian -- you know, all Russian transactions and on oil and gas. Sort of -- like do you think that Americans are not willing to take a hit at the gas pump?
MS. PSAKI: Well -- well, I would say there's a couple of principles through which the President has approached sanctions. One is maximizing the impact on Russian leadership and on the Russ- -- Russian financial system so that there will be a particular squeeze.
We've obviously taken steps already that have gone far and above what have ever been done -- what has ever been done in the past. If you look at just 10 -- the 10 financial institutions that we sanctioned, they hold a -- you know, a huge percentage of -- they are about 80 percent of the Russian banking sector. That is a significant step that was announced yesterday.
The export controls step that was announced yesterday means that they will be -- they won't have the ability to get access to the technology that -- and semiconductors and AI -- that President Putin desperately wants to continue to innovate his economy moving forward.
There's also -- of course, Europeans are also looking at -- European countries are also looking at some of their reliance on Russia, whether it's for energy or other purposes, and they're making their own decisions about diversifying.
And as I noted a little bit earlier, the Ruble remains about 10 percent weaker year to date and the worst-performing emerging market currency in the world.
So, what should be clear here is that there are already huge impacts. There is already an enormous squeeze on the Russian financial system and economy.
What we are also -- what the President is also focused on as a principle is not -- is taking steps and making sure we are minimizing the impact on the American people, on the global economic system. And we, of course, weigh that, as we have a responsibility to do. And we want to, first and foremost -- I should have said this first -- take these steps, united with our partners and Allies in Europe.
Q: Does the administration have any message to American companies that do business in Russia with entities that are not necessarily on the sanction list? Would you like to see U.S. citizens not buy Russian products? Would you like to see U.S.-based CEOs not look for business in Russia?
MS. PSAKI: We're not trying to hurt the people of Russia or the Russian people. We're trying to que- -- squeeze the financial system and sector to make sure there are significant consequences for the actions of the president.
Q: Thanks, Jen. So understanding there's no plan for Presidents Biden and Putin to speak, is there any line of communication between the White House and the Kremlin right now?
MS. PSAKI: I don't have additional details on that at this point in time. Obviously, our national security team has a range of means of communicating with the Russians.
Q: Then should we take what you said earlier in your answer to mean that the President won't speak with Putin unless Putin de-escalates or withdraws?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, it's not the appropriate moment right now. I can't give you -- I'm not going to give you a "forever and ever" because that's not how he feels. But they're actively invading Ukraine. They are moving on the capital. They are looking to overturn leadership. This is not the moment for President Biden to have a diplomatic conversation with President Putin.
Q: One more on refugees. It's been noted that the EU response to Ukrainian refugees has been quite different to the response to refugees from other nations, and I wonder what the White House view is on that, given that some countries like Poland and Hungary were actively trying to keep out many refugees largely from the Middle East.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don't think I have any further comment on that from here about the decisions of other countries and where they accept refugees from. What I can speak to is what our approach is here in the United States. And obviously, we have welcomed with open arms tens of thousands of Afghan refugees. And certainly, while it may be -- to go to the earlier question -- that the majority of refugees from Ukraine go to Europe, we are certainly open to accepting refugees from Ukraine as well. That is our policy and our approach and certainly what we will continue to implement.
Q: Just following up on the question and your discussion of sanctioning oil and gas and -- and understanding that the President in any decisions he makes around sanctions or any other actions to take against Russia is thinking about the American people, is there a point at which he would consider doing that? That -- that -- is that --
MS. PSAKI: Like the energy sector?
Q: Yeah. Ener- -- is the energy sector at some level on the table as Putin gets even more aggressive?
And also, you know, there are also some other countries that are -- have worked for carveouts -- for instance, Italy and luxury goods. What is the U.S. view of those kinds of exceptions being made for things that are maybe a lot less essential, as much as we might like them, than oil and gas? (Laughs.)
MS. PSAKI: (Laughs.) Speaking for yourself. So I would say, on the energy sector, no option is off the table.
But again, to go back to the princi- -- some of the principles here, our sanctions are designed to harm Russia's economy, not our economy, and that's a key balance that we're clearly trying to strike. And I think when Daleep -- as Daleep has been in here a few times over the last week, he has conveyed we do risk assessments -- right? -- and impact assessments, and that's a part of it.
The other factor here on the energy sector is that starting out with energy or -- could actually benefit President Putin and pad his pockets because, given high oil and gas prices, cutting off Russian oil and gas could drive prices up to Putin's benefit.
So, that's obviously a factor as well, but it's not off the table. But we look at a range of issues.
Q: In terms of how -- what other countries have sought as far as carveouts of areas that they're not sanctioning, does the administration have a view of that?
MS. PSAKI: I don't think -- I think -- look, our focus right now is that we are working in close coordination and in lockstep with our European counterparts. It does not mean everything is identical; it is not identical. But what you have seen across the board is very strong, impactful sanctions that the shared hope is that they will have significant economic and financial consequences.
Q: Do you -- does the administration have an estimate of how many Russian deaths or casualties there have been in Ukraine at this point?
MS. PSAKI: I don't have that assessment from here. I don't expect we would have that assessment from here.
Q: Okay. So the Ukrainians have this number -- 3,800 -- that they've been putting out -- or 2,800 that they've been putting out today. Do you have any sense of the accuracy or the order of magnitude or (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: I don't have any assessment from here and I don't anticipate we would. I know that the Department of Defense is providing -- is doing regular or daily, nearly, briefings on kind of the movements and what they're seeing on the ground, but I don't believe even they were able to make an assessment of casualties earlier today.
Q: Just one more quick question on the Supreme Court process. You mentioned three candidates that he interviewed in person. Just want to make sure: The -- the only three candidates he interviewed in person? Did he interview any candidates virtually?
MS. PSAKI: Those are the candidates he interviewed.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q: Okay. Okay, thank you. And -- yeah.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. Go ahead. Did you have another one?
Q: No, no, no. No.
(Cross-talk by reporters.)
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Go ahead. Go.
Q: Thank you so much, Jen. Thank you. Jen, does the White House stand by the support you guys gave to Brazil to become a global partner in NATO after President Bolsonaro met last week with President Putin. And still, President Bolsonaro didn't condemn the invasion.
MS. PSAKI: Again, as I said in relation to a question a little bit earlier, I mean, our view and our -- our push for every country in the world is to stand up, in this moment, and decide what -- where you stand, where you want to be in history as the history books look back.
But that doesn't -- I don't have anything in terms of our change of -- our view of our overarching relationship.
Q: Yeah, can I just follow up on that question in terms of building a global coalition against --
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q: -- Russia, right? I mean, India, for example -- a Quad member -- it's the only Quad member that's not implementing export controls for example. I think the President yesterday mentioned that that issue still hasn't been resolved. Is he planning to call -- call Prime Minister Modi? I think Prime Minister Modi called President Putin yesterday.
And just, can you speak more broadly, in terms of bringing all these other partners that maybe, you know, are not Europe, but, you know, the Quad, as well as perhaps ASEAN members who are pretty ambivalent and cautious about condemning the Russian invasion?
MS. PSAKI: I would say some were, but I wouldn't say the majority were. And we continue to engage with the Indians, with other ASEAN partners on both what we're seeing on the ground, our continued condemnation of the actions of President Putin in Ukraine. And we will continue to push others to follow suit.
Q: And just to follow up, Delta announced today that they're suspending codesharing with Aeroflot. Did the White House have anything to do with this decision? And are you urging other American companies to -- urge them to do the same?
MS. PSAKI: That's a decision by a private sector company. So I don't have any more comments on it.
Q: One more on the State of the Union, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q: Can you preview a little bit on the foreign policy portion of the President's State of the Union? I mean, obviously, with the crisis in Ukraine, I know that you -- you're not going to be able to preview that. But just in general -- now with Ukraine, before that with the Afghanistan withdrawal -- what can the President say to show that his foreign policy doctrine is succeeding?
MS. PSAKI: Well, without previewing the State of the Union, which we'll do later this evening -- or later this weekend -- sorry, it's kind of all one day that's running together -- we will do later this weekend, I expect. So, look at -- look ahead to that or we'll have more to say later this weekend.
You know, it's also -- as it relates to Russia-Ukraine: You know, we are unfortunately still in the middle of this conflict. Right? We're in the middle of an active invasion. So I just can't give you a preview of what that will look like in the State of the Union.
As it relates to how the President views his approach to foreign policy: You know, the President has ran -- ran for President wanting to return America's seat at the world, wanting to return to a time where other leaders around the world could trust the word and the commitments of the United States. And what you have seen, over the last few months, is the President deliver on exactly that. He has been leading the effort in the world to stand up to Russia, stand up to the efforts, the aggression, the invasion of a sovereign country.
While I'm not going to get into the specifics of what is going to be in the State of the Union, that's exactly what he said he would do when he was running.
Q: Yeah, so the President said he's doing everything he can to bring down energy prices --
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q: -- gas prices here in the U.S. Is on the table then -- or is he considering reversing some of the policies and regulations that he put into place that constricts the long-term supply of it to let Europe be more reliant on the U.S. for oil and natural gas?
MS. PSAKI: You mean like LNG exports or something like that?
Q: LNG -- LNG exports, but also oil prices -- allowing -- you know, opening up drilling again, reversing the ban on leases on federal lands.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what's important to note here -- and I talked about this a little bit yesterday -- is that there are a range of available oil leasing sites that oil companies are not utilizing, so you should ask them about that.
You know the President's view on reducing our dependence on foreign oil. And actually, his view is that this makes that case even stronger and diversifying the range of means of energy production everywhere around the world.
As it relates to LNG exports, I don't have anything new on that.
Our focus right now is on working with -- or engaging with a range of countries -- I mentioned Japan yesterday -- and having conversations with others who may have the availability of supply -- natural gas supply that was coming from the United States to provide to Europe in this time where they need it. And we're seeing some encouraging developments on that front.
Q: And one more thing on OPEC.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q: OPEC is making moves now to get ready to include Iranian oil in -- if the U.S. is successful with the Iran nuclear deal. Would the President then welcome Iranian oil coming into the U.S. to lower gas prices?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, we're not quite at the point of a final deal on the nuclear deal. So, we will talk about that if we get to that point.
Q: Thanks, Jen. You talked a couple times about the U.S. engaging in diplomacy with Russia going forward. When he announced the sanctions today against Putin and Lavrov, the British Prime Minister told NATO leaders that there could be "no normalization" with Russia after the attack on Ukraine. Does this administration share that view?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, in this moment, the -- I've conveyed pretty clearly the President has no intentions at this moment to engage with President Putin. He was just sanctioned. We just made a decision in coordination -- in close lockstep with the Europeans to sanction him; a head of state -- that is a very rare step to take.
And, obviously, we've issued significant sanctions that cover 80 percent of the financial sector.
So, no, we're not in a business-as-usual moment at this point in time. And, obviously, de-escalation would help return us to a state where that could proceed.
Q: And does the White House, right now, believe that President Zelenskyy is safe in Kyiv?
MS. PSAKI: We are in close touch with him. While I'm not going to give you updates on his security state, we -- certainly, the President just spoke with him earlier today, and he continues to be the President of Ukraine.
Q: Hi. In regards to the new CDC guidance on the pandemic, which, of course, will then be the, you know, the new Biden administration guidance: What is the -- what will the message be to Americans in regards to these new metrics and this -- the new guidance as to where we are in the pandemic?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, if you look at the specific of them, we're -- we are moving -- the President -- we have talked a little bit about how we want to move to a time and a place where we are -- you know, have the tools needed so that COVID and the pandemic do not disrupt our daily lives.
Obviously, they'll have -- there's more -- the President has been talking to his COVID team about exactly that. This is a part of that process, and we're moving forward in that process.
As a result of these -- this announcement today and these updated recommendations, today more than half the country -- 70 percent of Americans -- live in areas where the CDC no longer recommends universal masking.
Obviously, if people want to wear a mask, because they're immunocompromised, because they have concerns about their safeties and their -- safety in their communities, they should have the ability to do that. But that is certainly a step forward.
So, you know that -- this is part of that process. And I expect we'll have more to say soon.
Q: Is there concern that this might imply or have folks think that then, therefore, the pandemic is over and can eschew all caution?
And then secondly or kind of added on to that, are you confident that there will be an ability to reverse course if things get bad again?
MS. PSAKI: Well, if nobody is saying it's -- "it means it's over," including anybody who has a big platform, for example, then that -- we're not concerned about that. That is not what we're conveying from here, right?
What we are conveying from here and what the CDC is conveying is that America is in a stronger place today as a nation. We have more tools ever -- than ever before to protect ourselves from COVID-19: vaccination, boosters, treatments, testing, high-quality masks, improved ventilation. Over 200 million people are vaccinated. Nearly 100 million Americans have been boosted.
And the CDC is providing public health guidance that has a couple of different clear levels so that people can understand what their recommendation is as it relates to wearing a mask. That's exactly what this is.
There are still people dying every day of COVID. There are still immunocompromised populations.
But what we are trying to work towards is a period of time where we are -- where COVID is not disrupting our daily lives.
Q: Just wanted to know -- you said that the President has done everything in his power. We've seen the sanctions, shoring up the NATO eastern flank, all of that. But no troops -- you repeated that. Doesn't that also send a message to Vladimir Putin -- clearly, it hasn't stopped him -- that other nations in the region that are not NATO members are also free game for him since he's not going to have that stop?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don't think the crippling sanctions that the President has issued -- or approved and we announced yesterday -- that cover 80 percent of the financial sector, that are having an impact already on the financial sector there or steps that the President has taken, including export -- banning export controls; or steps he's taken to sanction oligarchs and to rally the world to take not only significant financial steps, but also to treat President Putin as a pariah send a message that there's a free walk for anything.
In fact, President Putin is isolating himself further. He's -- if his objective here is to -- as his stated objective is to divide NATO, if his stated objective is to divide the West, it's having the opposite effect. So, I don't think that would be our assessment.
Q: May I just -- just a quick question on cyberattacks.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q: The NATO Secretary General, again, said that he would view a cyberattack on a NATO member -- this time talking about NATO members -- as something that would be under Article 5. Is that the view of the United States also, that a cyberattack on NATO --
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, I answered this yesterday, and I said that it would be up to NATO members to determine what that looks like and what any response would look like.
Q: Has the President been in touch with -- before or after the decision today -- with Congressman Clyburn? He, of course, was a big boost --
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, he called him this morning.
Q: Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, okay. One more. One more. Last one.
Q: Thank you, Jen --
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead. Yeah.
Q: Thank you, Jen. You've said -- you've said that the U.S. -- we don't go to war against Russia (inaudible) Russia is heavily armed. The U.S. is heavily armed. And I'm -- I'm just wondering if you're not being pragmatic here with Russia. Are we not being pragmatic to recognize that it may not be in the interest of the U.S. for Ukraine to be a member of NATO, which is the key request from Russia?
MS. PSAKI: I'm not sure I'm understanding your question. Is it -- are you asking me if --
Q: Is it -- is it in the interest of the U.S. for Ukraine to be a member of NATO?
MS. PSAKI: It is up to every country to determine what alliances they want to join or not join. And that is not a pressure point we issue from the United States. And we --
Q: Can you -- can you -- can you confirm --
MS. PSAKI: -- think it's important for that to remain open.
Q: Can you confirm that you are looking for a job at CNN or MSNBC?
MS. PSAKI: I have more than enough on my plate here. So, you can't get rid of quite yet. Sorry, Peter, for you on that. (Laughter.)
And so, I will see you all on Monday. Thank you, everyone.
Q: Jen, do you have more as -- when you might brief us on the State of the Union?
MS. PSAKI: I think we might have more on Sunday is my expectation.
Q: Thank you.
4:28 P.M. EST
Joseph R. Biden, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/354652