Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:13 P.M. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Okay, so I have a couple of short items at the top. A lot of paper. A lot of things to talk about today.
Today, the President will host an event with business leaders and bipartisan governors, including Governor Whitmer and Governor Holcomb, to call on Congress to quickly pass competitiveness legislation like the Bipartisan Innovation Act.
During the event, the President, Secretary Raimondo, and the participants will focus in particular on why passing competitiveness legislation is critical for lowering prices for working families on essentials like cars and household appliances by addressing bottlenecks like semiconductor chips, manufacturing more in America, and strengthening our supply chains to make our economy more productive.
As we've seen over the past year, global events like the pandemic or Russia's unprovoked aggression in Ukraine can result in disruptions to global supply chains that lead to higher prices for American consumers, which further underscores the importance of strengthening our economy and making it more resilient to shocks like that in the future.
I also wanted to note that today the President signed an executive order outlining the first-ever whole-of-government approach to addressing the risks and harnessing the potential benefits of digital assets.
Previously, there has been -- never been an organized effort to bring together the expertise and authorities of the entire U.S. government to inform a holistic approach to digital assets.
With this executive order, the President is calling on experts across the federal government to assess and develop policy recommendations that address the implications of growing digital asset sec- -- of the growing digital asset sector across consumer protection, financial stability, national security, and climate risk.
Let me finally say: I heard there was a little kerfuffle in here after the briefing the other day. I just want to say that what we're going to do today is we're going to try to start with the third and fourth row, and fifth and sixth row; get more people's questions answered. We are always happy to answer questions from here. I could go on for hours. Just sit in your seats.
But we also know you all have a lot on your plates. So what we try to do, for everybody's knowledge, is balance between all the things reporters and all of you have focused on and trying to be informative in this briefing room. But we also are here as people have follow-up questions.
So, with that, Josh, let me have you start. Kick us off.
Q: Thanks, Jen. I know the pool is supposed to gather around 1:45 --
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q: -- if that's still on.
So, one easy question: The U.S. declined to help facilitate the transfer of jets to Ukraine yesterday. Does the U.S. want the Ukraine to get jets? And how urgent a priority is that?
MS. PSAKI: So, let me give you an update on the status. As of now, the -- Secretary Austin, Chairman Milley, and members of our Defense Department are in touch with Ukrainian counterparts, NATO counterparts, discusting [sic] -- discussing what are clearly logistical challenges here.
And I would note, Josh, that in the statement put out by my colleague at the Pentagon yesterday, he made clear that obviously the proposal from yesterday that fighter jets manned by Americans departing a NATO base to fly into airspace contes- -- contested with Russia raises serious concerns for the United States and NATO.
So, the logistical questions here, just to put a little fine point on it, are things like how do you get planes into Ukraine in a way that is not escalatory, and what are the logistics and operational details of that.
Those are conversations that are happening between counterparts at the military level, and I would expect any update might come from them.
Okay, let's go around. Michael, why don't you kick us off?
Q: Sure. Two questions on Venezuela.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q: So, obviously, yesterday two Americans were freed and they are now home. Nicolás Maduro has agreed to re-engage in the Mexico City talks.
So, is the ball in the President's court at this point to continue the engagement? And what is the plan (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, the -- let me note that the return of two American citizens is certainly welcome news, exciting news. And it would not have happened without the tireless work over the series -- a series of months by a number of our diplomats, including, of course, our Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs, Roger Carstens, who worked on this for months over the course of time.
You know, we are -- we'll continue to discuss a range of issues, including, first and foremost, Americans unjustly held. Unfortunately, they're not the only individuals held there -- the individuals who returned. So that will be something that we will look to have ongoing discussions about.
I'd also note that Maduro said he will resume talks with Venezuela's interim president in Mexico. So that is an encouraging sign.
So there were a range of issues discussed on this trip. There are a range of issues to discuss moving forward. But right now, we're just celebrating the return of two Americans.
Q: Okay. And just to follow up: Are there concrete plans for continued engagement for another round of talks? And is there -- you know, you mentioned, I think on Monday, that energy security was part of the conversation. What can Venezuela contribute to energy security?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don't have anything to preview for you in terms of additional talks or rounds of talks. But again, we are -- we are very pleased to have these two Americans returned home.
We -- if there are opportunities to continue to discuss that, that's something we are open to. There are obviously ongoing concerns about the health and wellbeing of anyone detained, whether it's there or in Venezuela or Russia or Afghanistan, Syria, China, Iran, and elsewhere. Those are conversations we are always going to want to engage in.
Obviously, it is facts- -- factual -- you all know -- that Venezuela is a large producer of oil. But in terms of any decisions or discussions or where that may go from here, I have no -- nothing to preview or predict for you on that front.
Nadia, go ahead.
Q: Thank you. Many American companies declared yesterday that they're shutting down in Russia, including Visa card, Masters, and McDonald's, et cetera.
The Russians say that they're going to confiscate their assets there. How would the White House react to that? I know they're all private companies, but basically declaring that they're going to nationalize these assets, according to the Russians.
And second -- not exactly related: Do you -- there are some reports indicating that Russia is delaying the signing of the Iran agreement and delaying the negotiation in Vienna from taking place for their own interests because they don't want, obviously, oil to be released to make up for the shortage.
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me take the second one first. I would say that our team -- we're continuing to engage with Iran deal partners, including Russia, on Iran nuclear negotiations. We believe Russia shares a common interest in ensuring Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon.
In our view, there's nothing that should be required of or will be offered from the United States as it relates to Russia sanctions -- that is related to their invasion of Ukraine.
But again, we believe we share an objective here. Always in the final stages, there are details to be worked through, and we will continue to work through those.
In terms of your first question on the seizing -- I think it was on the potential seizing of private sector assets in Russia for companies that have decided to pull back and pull out of the country -- obviously, we have not -- while we have applauded the actions of a number of companies, that is not something we have been pushing from behind the scenes, if that makes sense.
If they were to take those actions, I'm certain there would be steps we would take, but nothing has happened at this point in time. So let me talk to our economic team and see if there's anything more we can predict for you.
Q: Thanks, Jen. I have two questions. First, about the Florida bill that just passed restricting the speaking about homosexuality and gender identity after third grade. And then I have a question about surveillance matters that have been in the news.
Regarding the Florida bill: In 1994, when many of us in this room were in school, President Biden actually voted for a much broader restriction that banned federal funds from being used for, quote, "the promotion of homosexuality as a positive lifestyle alternative."
Why did he do that? And can you describe how his thinking has evolved over the years?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think that you have seen the President speak passionately about his view that a bill like this -- a bill that would discriminate against families, against kids, put these kids in a position of not getting the support they need at a time where that's exactly what they need -- is discriminatory. It's a form of bullying. It is horrific. I mean, the President has spoken to that.
In terms of his views and comments from 25 years ago, I think the most important question now is: Why are Florida leaders deciding they need to discriminate against kids who are members of the LGBTQI community? What prompts them to do that? Is it meanness? Is it wanting to make kids have more difficult times in school, in their communities? I would pose that question to them, and we can talk about it more tomorrow if you get an answer.
Q: Was there a reason he supported the same policy, though, in the '90s when we were all in school?
MS. PSAKI: I think what's important to note here is how outspoken the President has been against discrimination against kids, against members of the LGBTQI+ community. And what we're looking at here is a bill that would propagate misinformed, hateful policies and impact children…
So that's the question I hope -- maybe you can pose that to some of the leaders in Florida. Maybe they'll return your phone calls. And I'll look forward to having a conversation with you.
Q: On this --
Q: Can I follow up on that?
Q: Well, perhaps Chris could follow up afterwards. But I'd like to ask about the surveillance matters as well.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q: Senators Wyden and Heinrich, who are Democrats, recently alleged that the CIA is conducting a mass surveillance program that implicates American data and that it's outside of the statutory bounds that people think it's within.
First, could you say anything about that to reassure Americans regarding their data?
And secondly, according to a recent court filing by Special Counsel Durham, there was a technology executive who was, quote, "mining" the Executive Office of the President's DNS traffic and other data. CISA, the federal agency for cybersecurity, said in a 2020 document that DNS data can be sensitive and that's important to secure.
There are competing narratives, of course, about what data was actually implicated. So could you share with us what data was implicated in this and whether the White House has any security or privacy concerns regarding this alleged review?
MS. PSAKI: I have nothing further to comment on your questions. Obviously, this is an investigation. I point you to the Department of Justice, members of Congress. Obviously, we have serious respect for people's privacy in the country.
Q: Thank you, Jen. A quick follow-up. You mentioned the logistical challenges about flying planes --
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q: -- to Ukraine, through contested airspace. Why can't the United States put those planes on trains or automobiles? I guess, are we really to believe that when we're sending -- or preparing to send billions in aid, that, you know, this is the logistical bottleneck that is stopping us from getting them those planes?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it is a serious logistical bottleneck, right? Obviously -- there's obvious concerns that the Department of Defense has spoken to about flying planes from U.S. airbases -- right? -- that they spoke to yesterday.
These planes -- carting them down the street, I think, is not as easy as you may think it is. Planes -- if they have to be taken apart and put back together, you have to have people who are able to put those planes back together. You have to ensure that there's -- they can be safely moved through the course of a contested country, or not -- you know, a country where there is a war going on with the Russians, you know, who implemented that war.
So there are a range of logistical and operational challenges. Those are important conversations to happen between military experts and our Defense Department leaders and officials -- Secretary Austin, Chairman Milley, and their counterparts.
Q: And then, should we expect that the U.S. Export-Import Bank is going to continue to underwrite loans that would support commerce with Russian companies and corporations, given the tranche of sanctions that we've seen against (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: I would have to check and see how these sanctions are implemented. Obviously, we're going to abide by all of our -- our own sanctions. And we've tried to implement them as quickly as possible, but I can see if there's any specific impact on them.
Q: So, John Kirby's line is that transferring the planes -- or the latest iteration -- was not "tenable." Can you say: Is what's not tenable the arming of the Ukrainians with jet fighters? Or is it merely the logistical things you're speaking to?
MS. PSAKI: I think the Defense Department spoke primarily to this, and they were very specific, Geoff. They said fighter jets manned by Americans departing a NATO base to fly into airspace contested with Russia raises serious concerns for the United States and for the NATO Alliance.
We have provided a billion dollars in military assistance. I would say the $350 billion that was announced just -- less than two weeks ago, I believe the Defense Department has conveyed almost all of that has been delivered. We have not held back on providing weapons, anti-missile systems, tank systems at all at any point in this process.
But there are important operational, logistics concerns here and steps -- conversations that should happen between military experts. And that's exactly what's happening.
Q: So, in principle, it's a policy that the White House would support or like to find a way to solve?
MS. PSAKI: Again, we're having discussions about it, but there are operational and logistical questions that are important ones that we will leave to our Defense Department colleagues.
Q: Just a quick one. You know, there was another round of arrests in Russia -- it was, like, estimated at 5,000 -- over the weekend. Is the -- protesting the war. What is the assessment of the White House as far as how this has all affected regime stability over there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that -- you know, I don't think we assess that President Putin thought that there would be such an outpouring of objection in his own country. He would probably not have cut off access to media, access to social media, access to basic information for the people of his country if that were the case.
So, we have seen people across Russia bravely, courageously protest, speak out against a war that they believe is unjust, is unwarranted. And, you know, that is incredibly powerful.
Now, unfortunately, as you know and many of you know from working for these networks and news organizations, there have been tough decisions that news organizations have had to make, whether -- about whether they're going to keep a presence in Russia because of the restrictions. And it's not just -- you know, it's not just the speaking out of President Putin. It's about fines. It's about the threat of arrest. It's about safety and security that organizations have to consider.
So, in terms of stability, I don't have any assessment for that other than to tell you that it's pretty clear he didn't bet on the opposition from within his own country.
Shrish, why don't you go in the back?
Q: Thank you. One, if I could follow up on the earlier
questions about the jet fighters. Is this a difference of kind or a difference of degree? I mean, is the objection that it's a -- it's an airplane, or because, as you point out, we're sending them things that destroy tanks, things that shoot down airplanes?
So, I mean, if it can be done without -- I mean, they would know where they came from and -- I don't even see if there's plausible deniability or anything like that. What is the hang-up exactly?
MS. PSAKI: I think it's pretty clear. It doesn't require a military expert to understand why having planes fly from a U.S. airbase into a contested part of a country where there is a war is not in our interest and not in NATO interests.
So, there are logistical and operational challenges to consider and discuss. It isn't that easy to move military planes around -- maybe not as easy as some of you may suspect it is. And those are conversations, again, that are happening between military experts. And I would point you to the Department of Defense for the status of that.
Q: And more broadly, is there any concern that making the lives of average Russians miserable -- you know, with all these companies pulling out and things that are designed to hurt the economy, as opposed to Putin personally, as opposed to his oligarchs personally -- is there a worry that that's going to consolidate his support within the country rather than make him -- rather than diminishing?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that our view and the view of our global partners is that when a president like President Putin, you know, launches a war of choice where he is brutally killing, injuring people in a sovereign country, there have to be consequences. Those consequences are economic and significant, no question about it.
Our target is not to hurt the Russian people; it is to squeeze President Putin and the leadership around him. But what the impact is, is certainly having a devastating impact on the Russian economy.
And our view is that over the over the medium and long term, that that is not going to be sustainable for President Putin and the team around him.
Go ahead, Ed.
Q: So, I'm starting to hear the administration talk about gas prices -- as a way to speed up the lowering of gas prices, to speed up the transition to those clean energy.
Gas prices have risen month over month, every month since the President has been in office. So, is the feeling then from the President that the American people just have to wait until 2030 when the President set his goal for zero emissions -- or to have cars being sold with zero emissions --
MS. PSAKI: No.
Q: -- (inaudible) higher gas prices.
MS. PSAKI: That's never been our theory or our belief.
I would say that since President Putin began his military buildup on Ukrainian borders, the price of gas at the pump in America has gone up 75 cents, which is significant, of course.
There is widespread consensus that the sharp runup of energy prices since January was called by -- caused by the building of Putin's troops at Ukraine's border. The reality, as we know, is that Russia is the world's third-largest oil producer. And energy supply disruptions and market volatility are a result of his aggression.
Don't -- you don't have to take my word for that. There have been a number of assessments. Back in January, Federal Chair -- Fed Chair Powell warned that there was a risk to our economy based on, quote, "what's going on in Eastern Europe."
In early February, JP Morgan analysts projected that disruptions of oil flows from Russia could push oil prices to $120 per barrel, which is what has happened.
Our approach has always been twofold. One, we need to ensure the supply meets the demand out there in the marketplace. There's a couple of ways to do that. Obviously, we're engaging with big global oil producers around the world to meet that demand. But there are also, as we've talked about a few times in here, 9,000 unused oil leases that oil companies could certainly tap into, and we've encouraged them to do that. So that's certainly a way to address.
Q: But the price of gas on February 14th was at a high -- highest level since 2014. So it was already at an elevated level.
I want to ask you --
MS. PSAKI: And the build-up of troops was even before that.
Q: I want to ask you about tomorrow. We're going to get a CPI inflation number that's expected to be pretty big. It's supposed to rise from the 7.5 percent that it was month over month. So gas prices are part of that. I want to know what specifically the administration has done, they've been working on that has worked to bring down inflation.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say first because while we don't have the data at this point yet, but as we're looking ahead, we certainly assess that -- that we expect to see a high headline in -- headline inflation in tomorrow's February inflation data.
A key reason, as you touched on, are energy prices. We've seen the price of gas increase, as I noted, 75 cents since the beginning of the year as Putin built up his military near Ukraine and took increasingly aggressive measures that were felt in the markets.
We also expect some increases in pandemic-affected sectors given our strong recovery from Omicron in February. That's a positive sign for our economy and for Americans who are going out again, traveling, going to restaurants, and getting back to normal. And we also expect to see continued moderation in used car prices.
So that's what our prediction, our assessment is at this point in time.
In terms of steps we have taken to address inflation --
Q: But what has worked?
MS. PSAKI: What has --
Q: What has worked? So October 13th is when you announced the port initiative.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q: What specifically can you point to that has worked to bring down inflation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a number of steps we've taken. If you've seen -- if you compare a month-to-month, we've seen inflationary pressure -- or inflationary numbers go down month to month -- even as we looked at the year-to-year numbers go up, which we entirely predicted.
One, we've taken steps to address bottlenecks in the supply chain, to reduce those bottlenecks. Those are steps we've taken not just since October but since earlier this year. There's no question that we've seen impacts as it relates to getting goods and supplies out to the American public.
We've also taken steps to address what we see as shortages and issues in the semiconductor space.
We -- I just opened this briefing by pressing for the passing of the competitiveness legislation that the President would love to sign into law, because we know that one of the big pressures is, of course, from the car and manufacturing sector or the car sector.
And then, third, we know that because of the pressures on the energy sector that that has been an area where we've continued to see have an impact on inflationary pressure.
We believe in the last few months that has been because of President Putin's invasion of Ukraine. But as I've noted, there are a number of steps working to address that.
Why don't you go ahead in the yellow?
Q: Thank you. Well, there's -- is there an assessment by the White House for the losses on the Russian side, like financial, economy losses? Because every time a new or fresh wave of sanctions is imposed, the response from Moscow would be, "It was expected." So, is there, like, an assessment of the losses as a result of all the sanctions that have been imposed?
And also, another question on EU. As you know, President Zelenskyy asked for an accelerated push to join the EU. And EU leaders or, I think, representatives are meeting today in Brussels. Does the White House support Ukraine in EU?
MS. PSAKI: On the last question, that's really up to the EU and Ukraine to determine together.
On the -- on the first question, I don't think that's what they're saying anymore. They have had -- their stock market has been closed for days. The ruble is worth a penny. They're headed toward what many outside economists have described as a recession. They have had a huge strain on their financial markets and systems. So, I don't think the facts bear out if that is the claim anyone is making, and I have not seen that claim be made, much less.
Okay, go ahead in the middle.
Q: Thanks, Jen. Does the White House believe there's an opportunity to convince China to play an effective role in resolving the crisis in Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Well, here's what we've seen China do to date: We have seen them speak out at the Munich Security Conference or have a public comment, I should say, about the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. We've seen them abstain from U.N. Security Council votes. We've seen them largely abide by the sanctions that have been put in place.
I would note, though, that if any country tries to evade or work around our economic measures, they will experience the consequences of those actions.
So our assessment right now is that they're abiding by the requirements that have been put in place, but we would continue to encourage any country to think a lot about what place they want to -- what role they want to play in history as we all look back.
Okay. Let me go to the front. Go ahead.
Q: Thank you. A couple questions on the future leadership of NATO. What is the White House thinking on Jens Stoltenberg stepping down in just a few months as the leader of the Alliance?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think that NATO has not been more united, in the last several months, in decades. And while no one wanted that to be prompted by the invasion of a dictator, like President Putin, into a foreign country, that unity among NATO partners and the strength of that unity is certainly something that has been a direct impact of his aggression.
In terms of future leadership, obviously, that would be for NATO partners to determine. But we certainly recognize and value the leadership that has been displayed by NATO -- NATO leaders and the Alliance over the course of the last few months.
Q: Follow-up on that: Have you, as a NATO member, ruled out asking Stoltenberg to continue in this time of the biggest crisis since World War Two?
MS. PSAKI: I don't have anything to predict for you in terms of the future of NATO leadership from here.
Q: Have you started the search for a new leader of NATO?
MS. PSAKI: Again, it's up to NATO leaders and partners to determine that. I don't -- I'm not a spokesperson for the NATO Alliance, so I would certainly point you to them to speak to that in any further detail.
Q: I want to go back to Venezuela, if we can.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q: There's a few here you're probably going to not be able or just not answer --
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q: -- but we're going to ask them anyway.
MS. PSAKI: Go for it.
Q: Gustavo Cárdenas and Jorge Alberto Fernández -- do we know why they were released?
MS. PSAKI: I don't have any more details on that I can provide.
Q: U.S. officials who were part of that delegation -- are they all back from Venezuela?
MS. PSAKI: I believe, yes.
MS. PSAKI: I will confirm that for you, though.
Q: Should we anticipate the imminent release of any other Americans who are being held there right now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, as we are working on bringing any unjustly detained Americans home from any country in the world -- whether it's Venezuela, Russia, Afghanistan, Syria, China, Iran, and elsewhere -- we typically don't discuss that because it puts at risk the potential for bringing individuals home.
But yes, we would still -- we are still going to work on bringing others home who have -- who did not return on the plane last night.
Q: A high-ranking member of Juan Guaidó's team told the Miami Herald this week, quote, "It is foolish to think that Maduro will quit Russia when a great deal of the corruption funds have been deposited in Russia and when Russia, furthermore is its greatest ally…This is a mistake. To buy oil from Maduro is the same as buying oil from Putin."
Two things. I think I know where you'll go on the first one, but I want to give you the opportunity to respond. If the United States --
MS. PSAKI: We spend so much time together, Ed. I appreciate it.
Q: If the United States recognizes Guaidó as the leader of Venezuela, why did the U.S. feel it necessary to negotiate with the Maduro regime?
And was the Guaidó team made aware of the plans for U.S. officials to go to Venezuela to meet with the Maduro government before they went?
MS. PSAKI: On the last, I just don't have anything more to convey to you about private diplomatic conversations. I would note that one of the steps that was announced yesterday was Maduro saying he was willing to resume talks with Venezuela's interim president. Certainly, we would note that.
And, obviously, we -- part of our effort here, as you now know, was related to the health and wellbeing of American citizens detained in Venezuela, hence we had discussions with those who are detaining them.
Q: Just one, because there were so many questions -- good ones -- about the planes --
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q: -- going from Poland to Ukraine and whether we'd be the interlocutor.
On Sunday, when the Secretary of State was asked about this possibility of a plane swap, he said, quote, "That gets a green light," and we're working with Poland on possibly backfilling their military equipment. What changed between him saying that on Sunday and Tori Nuland and others yesterday at the Pentagon saying, "Actually, that's not tenable"?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don't think that's exactly how I would see how the events transpired. I believe that Tony -- Secretary Blinken was asked about Poland's giving planes to the Ukrainians. That's certainly a choice they make as a sovereign country. We've never opposed that, never stood in the way of that; we still do not today.
What we're talking about here though is -- the proposal yesterday, as you know, was for these planes to fly from a U.S. air base in Germany. And we have understandable concerns about that.
So, what we're talking about now, through military channels, is the operational concerns: how this could work, the logistics of it. And those conversations are ongoing.
Q: Thank you. Why did you guys decide to rebrand the rise in gas prices as the "#PutinPriceHike"?
MS. PSAKI: I mean, if you want to use that on Fox, I welcome that. But --
Q: Oh, I think it'll get a lot of airtime because we have heard the President warn for months that gas prices were rising because of the supply chain and because of post-pandemic demand. If you guys knew for months that this was going to be the #PutinPriceHike, why are we just hearing that now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Peter, if we go back to six months ago, I don't think anybody was predicting we would be exactly where we are as it relates to Russia and Ukraine, as you know that events in the world, including the invasion by Russia of a foreign country, does prompt instability and volatility in the global oil markets. And there are all sorts of different issues that can impact that. That's what we're seeing now.
Outside economists and analysts have conveyed and said publicly that Russia's invasion, Russia's buildup of troops, President Putin's decision to do that very early this year led to a lot of the instability and volatility in the oil markets. You don't have to take my word for it.
So, therefore, if President Putin's buildup of military troops is leading to volatility and an increase in oil -- in prices, hence you have "Putin pump -- gas price pump --
Q: Okay. You and the --
MS. PSAKI: -- rise." (Laughter.)
Q: You and the President are both talk -- thank you.
MS. PSAKI: (Laughs.)
Q: You and the President are both talking about --
MS. PSAKI: Spit that out.
Q: You and the President are both talking about producing energy here, saying that oil and gas companies "have 9,000 permits to drill now. They could be drilling right now." Would President Biden cut red tape to make that possible?
MS. PSAKI: What red tape needs to be cut when they have the permits, they have the capacity to do it? What's holding them up?
Q: Does President Biden think that each of these 9,000 leases that are available have oil or gas in them? Because industry experts are saying that "that accusation is a complete red herring"; "some permits are viable and some are not"; and that when you say that, "This represents a fundamental misunderstanding as to how this process works."
MS. PSAKI: Well, first of all, the -- nearly 60 percent of leased acres remain non-producing -- that's a lot -- in the range of 20 million acres. So there are 9,000 unused approved permits to drill in. They should not require -- that should not require us inviting them to do that. They should do that themselves.
Q: But you said they can't get the additional permits. So would the President --
MS. PSAKI: What additional permits do they need? There's no -- they have -- the leases are there. The permits are there. I don't think they need an embroidered invitation to drill. That is their oil companies. What is -- what is happening --
Q: It's not an embroidered invitation, it's a federal permit.
MS. PSAKI: What is happening -- what is ha- -- but what was is -- the permits have been granted, Peter.
Q: It's not just one permit though. Would you --
MS. PSAKI: What is happening here is that we are seeing -- these are private sector companies. We recognize that. Many of them are making record profits. We see that that. That is all publicly available data. They have pressure to return cash to investors and their shareholders.
What we're saying right now is: There is a war. We're asking them to go use the approved permits, use the unused space, and go get more supply out of the ground in our own country.
Q: Okay. And then just a quick yes-or-no, because there's a lot of gray area here.
MS. PSAKI: Oh.
Q: Is a restart of the Keystone XL construction completely off the table as long as Joe Biden is President?
MS. PSAKI: Well, why don't you tell me what that would help address.
Q: I'm asking you if it is an option. You guys say, "All options are on the table." Is restarting Keystone construction one of them?
MS. PSAKI: If we're trying to bring about more supply, that does not address any problem.
Q: It's supply from Canada, a friendly ally, instead of Saudi Arabia or Iran or Venezuela.
MS. PSAKI: That -- that's already -- we're already getting that oil, Peter. It's -- the pipeline is just the delivery mechanism. It is not an oil field. So it does not provide more supply into the system. It does not address --
Q: Is it off the table? Is it possible that Joe Biden will ever say, "You guys can go ahead with construction of Keystone XL"?
MS. PSAKI: There's no plans for that, and it would not address any of the problems we're having currently.
Q: Jen, can you help us --
MS. PSAKI: And we're going to have to wrap up soon, but we'll try to get to MJ.
Q: Can you help us understand what exactly would have transpired for the Polish government to publicly propose this idea of getting the fighter jets to Ukraine that the U.S. would then publicly reject? Was there, at any point, a breakdown in communication between the two countries?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think as our Undersecretary of State, Tori Nuland, testified yesterday, we were not made aware of their plans to make that announcement yesterday. So I wouldn't call that a breakdown in -- I guess it's a temporary breakdown in communication, but we have a strong and abiding relationship with Poland.
The President spoke with President Duda just last Friday. Obviously, the Vice President is on her way there, not -- not related to this particular issue, which will be worked through military channels.
But it was more about the mechanism for how it would be delivered. And that is the issue that is operational, and we're still discussing.
Q: Is it safe to say that the U.S. was caught off guard by the initial announcement from the Polish government?
MS. PSAKI: I think we said that yesterday.
Q: On gas prices --
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q: -- quickly. The President said yesterday, "I'm going to do everything I can to minimize Putin's price hike here at home." And then hours later as he was getting off the Air Force One, he said, I "can't do much about that right now." "Can't do much right now." That was the exact words from the President.
For anyone that might have been confused seeing the two statements from the President within a couple of hours, what would be your explanation? Does the President believe there is action that he can take to address gas prices, or does he believe there's not much that can be done?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that the short gaggles when the President is getting off the plane and getting into a car are not always super comprehensive, as I think many of you have experienced. They're not always extensive.
But what the President said yesterday in his lengthy remarks before his trip and what we have said many times is that there are a range of steps that we will continue to take, including coordinating with the global community about ensuring the supply in the marketplace meets the demand. That includes the release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve that he announced a second one just a few weeks ago. That includes continuing to work and coordinate with global oil suppliers around the world, something that his national security team and he is engaged in, in a nearly daily basis. And that includes considering a range of domestic options.
But the oil markets -- oil markets are global. Right? And it is all about meeting the supply demands that are out there. And clearly, given the invasion and given the impact of that, we need to look at a range of options, but we've already taken a number of steps and we will continue to. And he said that all yesterday morning in the same day.
Q: Jen, to clarify --
MS. PSAKI: Okay, I got to -- this may have to be the last one. I'm sorry. Go ahead.
Q: -- to clarify on the military planes --
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q: -- and the Vice President's trip. You said that what's going on now are discussions with military officials. So this issue is not a priority, is not going to be part of the Vice President's discussions with the Polish leader tomorrow?
MS. PSAKI: I would expect it's going to happen through military channels. Those conversations have on- -- been ongoing, and I would expect they would continue to happen through those channels.
Q: So, not -- not a priority? Not a central part of the Vice President's discussions tomorrow (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: I'm never going to say it's not a priority, but I would just say that the appropriate channels for it -- because they're about the operational movement of military equipment -- are through military channels.
Q: A quick follow-up?
Q: Just a clarification. Just a clarification on the --
MS. PSAKI: I know we're going to have to wrap up in a minute here because you guys have to go to the event.
Q: Just a quick reaction to the Russian airstrikes reportedly striking a children's hospital in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol?
MS. PSAKI: I have -- we have certainly seen those reports. And as a mother -- I know a number of you are mothers yourself -- it is horrifying to see the type of -- the barbaric use of military force to go after innocent civilians in a sovereign country.
And, you know, I know we've seen the reports on all -- that you have all been broadcasting over the last couple of hours. Unfortunately, I don't have more details than that at this point in time.
Q: Just for clarification --
MS. PSAKI: You all have to go to an event with the President.
Q: Just for clarification on the question --
MS. PSAKI: Yes, go ahead.
Q: Does the U.S. recognize Juan Guaidó as the Interim President of Venezuela? Because I think that was a direct question from Ed.
MS. PSAKI: That we had -- that's how we've -- we have referred to him, yes.
Q: No, no, but you didn't say. Does the U.S. recognize Juan Guaidó --
MS. PSAKI: That's how we refer to him.
Thanks, everyone, so much. Have a good rest of your day.
1:50 P.M. EST
Jen Psaki, 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/354824