Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:06 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Okay. We have a return guest: Jake Sullivan, our National Security Advisor, who will give some brief remarks, take some questions. And then we will do a briefing from there.
With that, I'll turn it over to Jake.
MR. SULLIVAN: Hi, everyone. I hope you guys are doing well.
With apologies to Jen and to you, my remarks are not going to be so brief because I have a number of points I want to get through before opening it to questions.
First, you heard the President today condemn in powerful terms the atrocities committed by Russian forces retreating from Bucha and other towns in Ukraine. The images that we see are tragic, they're shocking, but unfortunately, they're not surprising.
We released information even before Russia's invasion showing that Russia would engage in acts of brutality against civilians, included it tar- -- including targeted killings of dissidents and others they deemed a threat to their occupation. And as the horrific images that have emerged from Bucha have shown, that's exactly what they have done.
We had already concluded that Russia committed war crimes in Ukraine, and the information from Bucha appears to show further evidence of war crimes. And as the President said, we will work with the world to ensure there is full accountability for these crimes. We are also working intensively with our European allies on further sanctions to raise the pressure and raise the cost on Putin and on Russia.
Today, I'd like to take a step back and talk about where we are and where we think we are going.
Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine more than a month ago. When Russia started this war, its initial aims were to seize the capital of Kyiv, replace the Zelenskyy government, and take control of much -- if not all -- of Ukraine. Russia believed that it could accomplish these objectives swiftly and efficiently.
But Russia did not account for the strength of the Ukrainian military and the Ukrainian people, or the amount or effectiveness of military assistance provided by the United States and its allies and partners.
The Ukrainian people, backed resolutely by the United States and other nations, have held firm. Kyiv and other cities still stand.
The Ukrainian military has performed exceptionally well. And many Ukrainian civilians have joined local militias in addition to using nonviolent means to resist.
Vladimir Putin also believed that the West would not hold together in support of Ukraine. Russia was surprised that President Biden and the United States were so effective in rallying the world to prepare for and respond to the invasion.
And after President Biden reinforced and reinvigorated Western unity at a series of summits in Brussels just 11 days ago, the Russians have now realized that the West will not break.
At this juncture, we believe that Russia is revising its war aims. Russia is repositioning its forces to concentrate its offensive operations in eastern and parts of southern Ukraine, rather than target most of the territory. All indications are that Russia will seek to surround and overwhelm Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine.
We anticipate that Russian commanders are now executing their redeployment from northern Ukraine to the region around the Donbas in eastern Ukraine.
Russian forces are already well on their way of retreating from Kyiv to Belarus as Russia likely prepares to deploy dozens of additional battalion tactical groups, constituting tens of thousands of soldiers, to the frontline in Ukraine's east.
We assess Russia will focus on defeating the Ukrainian forces in the broader Luhansk and Donetsk provinces, which encompasses significantly more territory than Russian proxies already controlled before the new invasion began in late February.
Russia could then use any tactical successes it achieves to propagate a narrative of progress and mask or un- -- or try to discount or downplay prior military failures.
In order to protect any territory it seizes in the east, we expect that Russia could potentially extend its force proje- -- projection and presence even deeper into Ukraine, beyond Luhansk and Donetsk provinces. At least that is their intention and their plan.
In the south, we also expect that Russian military forces will do what they can to try to hold the city of Kherson, to enable their control of the waterflow to Crimea, and try to block Mykolaiv so that Ukrainian forces cannot proceed to retake Kherson.
In the north, Russia will likely keep pressure on Kharkiv.
During this renewed ground offensive in eastern Ukraine, Mas- -- Moscow will likely continue to launch air and missile strikes across the rest of the country to cause military and economic damage -- and, frankly, to cause terror, including against cities like Kyiv, Odesa, Kharkiv, and Lviv.
Russia's goal, in the end, is to weaken Ukraine as much as possible.
Russia still has forces available to outnumber Ukraine's, and Russia is now concentrating its military power on fewer lines of attack.
But this does not mean that Russia will succeed in the east. So far, Russia's military has struggled to achieve its war aims, while Ukraine's military has done an extraordinary and courageous job demonstrating its will to fight and putting its considerable capabilities to use.
The next stage of this conflict may very well be protracted. We should be under no illusions that Russia will adjust its tactics, which have included and will likely continue to include wanton and brazen attacks on civilian targets.
And while Moscow may be interested now in using military pressure to find a political settlement, if this offensive in the east proves to gain some traction, Russia could regenerate forces for additional goals, including trying to gain control of yet more territory within Ukraine.
Now, as the images from Bucha so powerfully reinforce, now is not the time for complacency. The Ukrainians are defending their homeland courageously, and the United States will continue to back them with military assistance, humanitarian aid, and economic support.
We know that military assistance is having a critical impact on this conflict. Ukrainians are effectively defending themselves with U.S.-produced air defense systems and anti-tank systems, such as Stingers and Javelins, as well as radar systems that give the Ukrainians early warning and target data, and multiple other types of arms and munitions.
The administration is working around the clock to fulfill Ukraine's main security assistance requests -- delivering weapons from U.S. stocks where they are available and facilitating the delivery of weapons by Allies where Allied systems better suit Ukraine's needs. This is happening at what the Pentagon has described at an "unprecedented pace."
Last Friday, we announced an additional $300 million in security assistance, bringing the U.S. commitment to $1.65 billion in weapons and ammunition since Russia's invasion and $2.3 billion since the beginning of the administration.
The latest package includes laser-guided rocket systems, Puma unmanned aerial systems, armored High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles, and more.
Material is arriving every day, including today, from the United States and our Allies and partners. And we will have further announcements of additional military assistance in the coming days.
We are working with the Ukrainians, as I said, to identify solutions to their priority requests. In some cases, that means sourcing systems from other countries because the U.S. either doesn't have the system or doesn't have a version that could effectively be integrated into the fight. Sorts of systems like this include longer-range anti-aircraft systems, artillery systems, and coastal defense systems.
So, let's take coastal defense systems as an example. President Biden went to Brussels to talk to key Allies 11 days ago about how to get coastal defense systems to Ukraine, because there is not, at the moment, a good U.S. option.
Last week, the UK announced at the close of its donor conference that coastal defense systems would be provided to the Ukrainians. It is a good example how, working with Allies and partners, we are successfully responding to Ukraine's requests.
We expect additional new capabilities to be delivered in the near future. We can't always advertise what is being delivered out of deference to our Allies and partners or for operational sensitivities, but we are moving with speed and efficiency to deliver.
Let me close with this: Even as Russia acknowledges the failure of its initial plans and shifts its goals, three elements of this war remain constant.
First, Russia will continue to use its military to try to conquer and occupy sovereign Ukrainian territory.
Second, the Ukrainian military and people will continue to effectively and bravely defend their homeland.
And third, the United States will stand by them for as long as it takes.
Russia has tried to subjugate the whole of Ukraine, and it has failed. Now it will attempt to bring parts of the country under its rule. It may succeed in taking some territory through sheer force and brutality.
But no matter what happens over the coming weeks, it is clear that Russia will never be welcomed by the Ukrainian people. Instead, its gains will be temporary, as the brave Ukrainian people resist Russian occupation and carry on their fight for an independent, sovereign nation that they so richly deserve.
And with that, I'd be happy to take your questions.
Q: Jake, can I ask you about the President's call for a war crimes trial for Vladimir Putin? What are the mechanics of how the President sees that playing out? Would it be at the International Criminal Court or at some other tribunal?
MR. SULLIVAN: So, we have to consult with our allies and partners on what makes most sense as a mechanism moving forward. Obviously, the ICC is one venue where war crimes have been tried in the past, but there have been other examples in other conflicts of other mechanisms being set up.
So, there is work to be done to work out the specifics of that. And between now and then, every day, what we are focused on is continuing to apply pressure to the Russian economy and provide weapons to the Ukrainian people to be able to defend themselves.
Q: Other --
MR. SULLIVAN: Yeah.
Q: Sorry, forgive me. Other forums for this might include something that the U.N. General -- the U.N. Security Council might adopt. Is that what you're suggesting -- that you would go to the Security Council?
MR. SULLIVAN: Well, obviously, with Russia as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, it would be difficult to imagine that they would not attempt to exercise their veto to block something.
But there have been creative solutions to the question of accountability in the past, and I'm not going to prejudge what solution would be applied here or what forum or venue would be applied here.
What I will say is what the President said this morning: There has to be accountability for these war crimes. That accountability has to be felt at every level of the Russian system, and the United States will work with the international community to ensure that accountability is applied at the appropriate time.
Q: The President was careful to say he does not see this as genocide. Many Ukrainians believe that it is because their nation, their people are being attacked. Where is the line, in your view? And how have you counseled the President between "genocide" and "war crimes"?
MR. SULLIVAN: So this is something we, of course, continue to monitor every day. Based on what we have seen so far, we have seen atrocities, we have seen war crimes. We have not yet seen a level of systematic deprivation of life of the Ukrainian people to rise to the level of genocide. But, again, that's something we will continue to monitor.
There is not a mechanical formula for this. There is a process that we have run just recently at the State Department to ultimately determine that the killing -- the mass killing of Rohingya in Burma constituted genocide. That was a lengthy process based on an amassing of evidence over a considerab- -- a considerable period of time and involving, frankly, mass death, the mass incarceration of a significant portion of the Rohingya population.
And we will look to a series of indicators along those lines to ultimately make a determination in Ukraine. But as the President said today, we have not arrived at that conclusion yet.
Q: Thanks. I just have three quick questions. When you say the next stage will be "protracted," do you mean years? I mean, Russia has been in Crimea and Donbas since 2014. What -- what's "protracted"?
MR. SULLIVAN: So we can't predict, but I would just say that, so far, this conflict has lasted a little more than five weeks. And yet, in that time, we've seen an enormous amount of killing and death and, also, an enormous amount of bravery and success on the part of the Ukrainian forces.
What I'm saying when I say "protracted" is that it may not be just a matter of a few more weeks before all is said and done. That first, quote, unquote, "phase" of the conflict, of -- the Russians put it, was measured in weeks.
This next phase could be measured in months or longer.
Q: In the beginning, the consensus seemed to be: Russia was unstoppable; we just had to make the price as high as possible for them.
Then the new thinking is: Maybe Ukraine can actually win. Do you agree with that? And what would winning look like?
MR. SULLIVAN: So we believe that our job is to support the Ukrainians. They will set the military objectives. They will set the objectives at the bargaining table. And I am quite certain they are going to set those objectives at success, and we are going to give them every tool we can to help them achieve that success.
But we are not going to define the outcome of this for the Ukrainians. That is up for them to define and us to support them in. That's what we're going to do. And we do have confidence in the bravery, skill, and capacity of the Ukrainian armed forces and the resilience of the Ukrainian people.
Q: I just have one -- one quick thing on chemical weapons. The President and other allies have promised consequences without saying what they would be. The last time Russia used chemical weapons, there were sanctions but not very stiff ones. Are you ready to define consequences?
MR. SULLIVAN: So I'm going to say the same thing I've said from this podium that the President has said from a podium down the hall in this same building, which is that Russia will pay a severe price. We have communicated to them directly. We have coordinated with our allies and partners. And I'm not going to go further in terms of the specifics here today.
Q: Jake, two questions.
MR. SULLIVAN: Yeah.
Q: The administration initially did not call this "war crimes," and eventually, though, they did after they -- what they saw on the ground. Do you think that's going to be the case with calling it a genocide?
MR. SULLIVAN: Well, so, first, it's not just that we sit around and debate terms and then, ultimately, decide to apply a term based against static circumstances. We watch as things unfold. We gather evidence. We continue to develop facts. And as we gathered evidence and as we got the facts together, we ultimately came to the conclusion that war crimes were committed.
And, in fact, I would say, on this front, President Biden was a leader. He went out and said Putin is a war criminal. And many of you raised your eyebrows at that; many people out in the public raised their eyebrows at that. And now you see the scenes coming out of Bucha today.
And so, he's not going to hesitate to call a spade a spade, to call it like he sees it, and neither is the U.S. government.
So as the facts develop, could we see ourselves reaching a different conclusion on that question? Of course we could. But it's going to be based on evidence and facts as we gather it along the way.
Q: And two more quick ones for you. On the sanctions that the President was talking about today, should we expect those this week, or what's the timing?
MR. SULLIVAN: You can expect further sanctions announcements this week. And we are coordinating with our allies and partners on what the exact parameters of that will be. But, yes, this week, we will have additional economic pressure elements to announce.
Q: And my last question, quickly. You keep using the word "retreat" instead of "reposition." How much is that in part due to the spring conditions, the muddy conditions that are on the ground in Ukraine?
MR. SULLIVAN: The reason I use the phrase "retreat" is just kind of quite simple common sense. It's not some fancy technical military term. It's a term that all of us understand, which is, if you run pell-mell for an objective and you get stopped, and then you start to get beaten back, and then you withdraw, you pull out -- that's what I would call a retreat.
That's what happened to the Russians in Kyiv: They attacked Kyiv. They failed. They started to get beaten backwards by the Russian -- by the Ukrainian military. And they ultimately retreated back across the border into Belarus.
Now, with those forces, as I said in my opening comments, they are not intending to stand pat. They are going to reposition those forces to go after a different objective -- a scaled-down objective, but nonetheless a dangerous and disturbing objective, which is to conquer an occupied territory in eastern Ukraine.
And now it's our job to help the Ukrainian people have the tools they need to be able to stymie that objective. That is what we're intent on doing at this time.
Q: Jake, I know you're not willing to call it a genocide, but does the U.S. government have information that you can -- that you can use to independently corroborate Ukraine's allegations about atrocities in Bucha?
MR. SULLIVAN: So we have -- obviously got access to a lot of the information that you all have. We also have information that the Ukrainians have provided us directly. And we will also work with fact finders -- independent fact finders as we go forward to get to a level of documentation that allows us to help build very strong dossiers of evidence for war crimes prosecutions. And that is what we intend to do.
Now, on the question of the genocide determination: Obviously, we will continue on a daily basis to have consultations with the Ukrainians to reach determinations. And if at some point we reach the judgment that there, in fact, has been a level of atrocity, a level of killing, a level of intentional activity that rises to meet our definition of genocide, we'll call it for what it is.
We have never hesitated to call out the Russians for what they have done in Ukraine, and we will not start now.
Q: And sorry -- sorry, one quick question on France, Jake. They are -- they have suggested that, you know, a hefty EU-wide tariff should be imposed, as opposed to a blanket ban on Russian energy imports into the EU. Does the U.S. support that? And will that be part of what you're planning to do next in terms of sanctions?
MR. SULLIVAN: We are having conversations, as I stand here at this podium, with senior officials in the main European capitals, as well as in Brussels, on the full range of sanctions options, including sanctions options or pressure options that relate to energy.
I'm not going to negotiate that out at this podium. We want to make sure that we're able to pull together a consensus along with the rest of the European Union.
Q: Jake, the Kremlin is denying the images out of Bucha, saying that they don't show any kind of apparent execution. What is the U.S. doing to try and expose Russia's actions to its own citizens? I mean, what can we do to sort of fight this information war?
MR. SULLIVAN: Well, first, I would note that the Kremlin is working overtime to close down the information space inside of Russia, which is not exactly the action of a strong and confident government that feels really good about the story that it would be telling if it were allowing independent news sources to come in.
Second, we are, of course, supporting, through a variety of means, the provision of information about these atrocities and about the entire effort by the Russians to unjustly and unlawfully invade a sovereign neighboring country not just to the Russian people, but to people everywhere. We will continue to do that.
Q: And just to be clear: Is it your sense that the atrocities that we're seeing in Bucha are based on orders coming from Putin or his senior military officials? Or is there a chance here that this is sort of Russian forces acting on their own? And is there even a distinction?
MR. SULLIVAN: I don't want to get into the specific intelligence related to Bucha at this point. But what I will say, as I said at the outset, is that even before the invasion happened, we shared information with the public, with the press, including from this podium, that Russia was intending as a matter of policy -- not as a matter of one guy in a unit in a suburb of Kyiv, but as a matter of policy in this war -- to kill dissidents, to kill those who caused problems for the occupation, and to impose a reign of terror across occupied territories within Ukraine. That is what we are seeing play out.
So, no, we do not believe that this is just a random accident or the rogue act of a particular individual. We believe that this was part of the plan. We declared it from this podium as part of the plan, and now we are seeing it play out in real life, in living color, in these terrible, tragic images we are seeing come from Bucha.
Q: Thanks. So, I know you don't want to talk about possible venues for a war trial -- war crimes trial, but can you talk a little bit about the evidence-gathering aspect of it? That's going to be crucial to combatting disinformation and what Russians will say -- that "Ukrainian rebels are fighting us. That was legitimate warfare what happened." That could be a tactic they're taking.
So can you walk us through the evidence-gathering? Who's doing it? Are there people on the ground gathering evidence? How long does that take to, sort of, build a case? And what does that look like?
MR. SULLIVAN: So, I will directly answer your question, but I also think it is important for our team at the State Department, which will take the lead on this, including our Global War Crimes Coordinator, to give you a fully elaborate answer to this question, in technical detail, so that everybody understands exactly how this process works.
But with that being said, there are four main sources of information that we will develop in an effort to help build the case for war crimes.
The first is the information we and our allies and partners gather, including through intelligence sources. And we, actually, within our intelligence community, had previously stood up a team to be able to document and analyze war crimes and worked closely with the State Department in doing so. And we're also coordinating with key allies and partners who have their own capacities.
The second is what the Ukrainians themselves will do on the ground to develop this case, to document the forensics of these tragic and senseless killings in this particular instance and in other instances across Ukraine.
The third is international organizations, including the United Nations, but others as well -- prominent international non-governmental organizations with real credibility and expertise in this area.
And then the fourth is all of you. Because part of building this case is relying upon the global independent media, who has images, interviews, documentation. And when you put all of those four sources together, you can build, we believe, a package that can stand up to the relentless disinformation we are likely to see and have already started seeing from Russia, and that, ultimately, the truth will withstand the assault on the truth that we can expect to come from Moscow.
Q: On former President Trump, he's having Save America rallies where he's decrying the Biden administration, decrying the response that you all in the White House have been giving to this war in Ukraine. He said if he was in here in office, he would do it better; it wouldn't happen under him. What is your response to the former President, Donald J. Trump, saying these things about the current administration?
MR. SULLIVAN: I don't -- I don't have a response to the former President. We are focused on getting the job done, getting the support to the Ukrainian people that they need, applying unprecedented pressure to the Russian economy, and building a form of Western unity that no one could reasonably have expected and that we have sustained through the early weeks of the war and will sustain for the period ahead.
And I'll leave the commentary on what the former President said to others.
Q: Thank you very much. Thanks, Jake. To follow up on what you said about Ukraine setting terms for any potential resolution, President Zelenskyy said on "Face the Nation" that with regard to any potential peace agreement, the important thing in this agreement are security guarantees. But he also said the U.S. has not recei- -- has not provided any yet. Is the U.S. considering that? And what would that look like?
MR. SULLIVAN: So we are in regular contact -- and by "regular," I mean near daily contact. I personally am in near daily contact with my counterpart in the Ukrainian government. And we are talking constantly about how we can support a negotiated solution that defends Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. And we have told them that we are prepared to do our part to support that, including by ensuring that Ukraine has the means to defend itself in the future.
I'm not going to get into the specifics of what those negotiations are because I believe it's very important that they have a protected space to be able to be carried out. But you can rest assured that the United States is actively working in consultation with Ukrainians to support their efforts at the peace table.
Q: And then, a question on the sanctions. You just said that you're under no illusions that Russia will adjust its target. So what function will an additional sanctions package have when you announce it?
MR. SULLIVAN: So, I would say two things about sanctions. One is that sanctions are intended to impose costs so that Russia cannot carry on these grotesque acts without paying a severe price for it. The other is to have an effect on Russia's behavior over time.
But as President Biden has made clear repeatedly, we don't expect that that shift in behavior will be caused by sanctions overnight or in a week. It will take time to grind down the elements of Russian power within the Russian economy, to hit their industrial base hard, to hit the sources of revenue that have propped up this war and have propped up the klepto- -- kleptocracy in Russia. That's going to take some time to play out.
But there's no better time than now to be working at that so that the costs end up setting in and that ends up sharpening Russia's choices.
So, sanctions are not alone going to solve any of these problems, but they are a critical tool in ultimately producing a better outcome to this conflict than would otherwise be produced.
Q: Have the revelations about Bucha prompted the administration and its allies to reconsider what kind of military assistance it's providing to Ukraine? Are tanks now part of, you know, potential transfers that could be provided to the Ukrainian military?
MR. SULLIVAN: So, I'm not going to get into certain specific systems because, as I said at the outset, there are operational sensitivities and the sensitivities of our allies and partners for why we wouldn't speak about a particular capability like tanks.
But I will say this: Even before Bucha, the United States was working with Ukrainians on every item on its priority list and how we could go ahead and ensure that that could be provided to them. The only capability that we have discussed with them where there has been a difference in perspective that has been played out in living color and in this podium many times over has been the question of direct facilitation from a U.S. airbase in Germany into contested airspace over Ukraine -- the MiG-29s.
Otherwise, before Bucha, we were working with them on a wide range of capabilities, including some capabilities that people here were writing we weren't prepared to provide. That wasn't right.
Now, it's hard for me to correct the record in every case because, for very good reasons, some of these systems we cannot advertise, we cannot talk to you all about it.
But what I want to make clear, as I said at the outset, is the extent and depth of effort to acquire and transfer a variety of advanced weapons capabilities is extraordinary, it is unprecedented, and it has been ongoing from well before the terrible images came out this week.
Q: Jake, on the International Criminal Court: Is one of the reasons why the U.S. is considering alternate venues is because the U.S. is not a signatory? And does that undercut the U.S. push to hold Putin accountable with a war crimes trial of some kind when the U.S. is not a signatory of the International Criminal Court?
MR. SULLIVAN: The U.S. has in the past been able to collaborate with the International Criminal Court in other contexts, despite not being a signatory. But there's a variety of reasons one might consider alternative venues as well, beyond the specific relationship between the U.S. and the ICC.
Most importantly, this is not a decision the United States is going to make by itself. We're not going to make the call out of Washington for the appropriate venue for accountability; that is going to be done in consultation with allies and with partners around the world. And I don't want to prejudge those conversations that are ongoing.
And what I can communicate is the very real, sustained, and committed proposition that the United States has that we are going to ensure that there is accountability.
Yeah. I'll just take one more. Yeah.
Q: Thanks, Jake. The U.S. had rejected Poland's plan for a peacekeeping force to protect civilians. Is that something that's being reconsidered, given what we've seen of these atrocities? And is there any talk among the Allies to do some sort of force to help protect the civilian population?
MR. SULLIVAN: So, I don't quite accept the premise of the question. There -- there had been various peacekeeping proposals floated; none of them have ever been given full shape or been kind of formally put forward and suggested should actually be implemented.
And so, we continue to consult with our Allies and partners, including Poland, on what makes sense going forward. We have not yet seen a proposal that actually has been fleshed out that could be operationalized.
The one thing that the United States has made clear throughout this is that it is not our intention to send U.S. soldiers to fight Russian soldiers in Ukraine. But in terms of the supply of capabilities, in terms of other steps to support the Ukrainians and to do our best to protect civilians in Ukraine, we continue to look at every possible option, including in consultation with our partners on that.
And I'll -- I'll leave it at that. Thank you, guys.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, Jake, so much for joining us.
Q: Thank you. Come again, please.
MS. PSAKI: He will, I'm sure. He's probably our most frequent guest. I don't know if you get -- I probably owe him something for that.
Okay, a couple of items for all of you at the top. Today, Vice President Harris and administration officials announced the Biden-Harris Action Plan for Building Better School Infrastructure.
By leveraging funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the American Rescue Plan, this action plan will activate the entire federal government to support students' health and learning, from upgraded HVAC systems to electric school buses, from on-site solar energy installations to safe routes to school.
I also wanted to note, in light of the President's event on trucking, a couple of details or facts for all of you. 2021 was the best year for trucking growth -- jobs growth since 1994. And December 2021 through February of 2022 was the best three-month stretch for long-distance truck hiring since the 1990s.
Thanks to the efforts of the Department of Transportation, we doubled the issuance of Commercial Driver's License issuances in January and February of 2022, compared to the prior January and February of 2021.
And over 100 employers -- including Domino's, Frito-Lay, and UPS -- launched registered apprenticeship programs in the past 90 days. This could result in more than ten thou- -- 10,000 additional apprentices -- apprenticeships nationwide, which, of course, get more people -- more truckers trained, more trucks on the road, more goods moving around and onto shelves across the country.
I also wanted to note -- I think you all saw this, but just to confirm for all of you: Tomorrow, the President and Vice President will be joined by former President Obama to highlight how the Affordable Care Act continues to lower healthcare costs for American families. This will be the first time former President Obama returns to the White House since leaving office.
Since we've taken office -- since we've entered -- the President -- since President Biden has entered office, we've taken big steps to reduce healthcare costs and expand access to healthcare for the American people.
And how President Biden and former President Obama both see the Affordable Care Act is an example -- a shining example of how government can work for the American people. Not only did it ensure that millions of people had access to affordable healthcare, but it has been an opportunity to build on that and make changes and make improvements over the course of time, which, of course, is what they will talk about tomorrow.
But even since the President took office, through the American Rescue Plan, we lowered premiums for 9 million Americans -- the biggest expansion of affordable healthcare since the ACA. We've made affordable health coverage more accessible during the pandemic through the opening of the special enrollment period, which enabled nearly 3 million Americans to have access -- to newly sign up for coverage under the ACA.
And President Biden has overseen the most successful open enrollment period in history last year, with a historic 14.5 million Americans signing up for the -- for ACA coverage and another million people signing up for the basic healthcare program.
So, tomorrow, they'll announce more steps.
I'll also note, as they did every week when President --former President Obama was president and President Biden was vice president -- that's a mouthful -- they will have lunch tomorrow as well, as they used to do on a weekly basis.
I would note they continue to talk regularly. They are real friends, not just Washington friends, and so I'm sure they will talk about events in the world as well as their families and personal lives.
So, I'll try to get around the room as best as I can. But, Chris, why don't you kick us off?
Q: So, one question on Title 42. Some Republican attorneys general are suing the administration over the plan to lift it. What is the administration's response? And is the administration concerned that this would end up blocking the push to lift the order?
MS. PSAKI: Well, on the lawsuit itself, I'd of course refer you to the Department of Justice; they would be overseeing any steps there.
But broadly speaking, I think it's important to note for any critics in any lawsuits that Title 42 is a public health directive; it's not an immigration/migration enforcement measure. And the decision on when to lift Title 42 was made by the CDC.
And our objective from here -- and this is why we have the implementation period over the next several weeks -- continues to be to ensure we are increasing our resources, surging personnel and resources to the border, improving border processing, implementing COVID-19 mitigation measures, and continuing to work with other countries in the Western Hemisphere to manage migration and address root causes.
But this is, again, a healthcare measure -- a health measure determination and not one on immigration policy.
Q: Thanks, Jen. Let me ask you the question I was going to ask Jake, which is that: As part of this new effort to ramp up sanctions, is the administration going to be ramping up pressure on China and India to abide by existing sanctions? And what does that look like? I know Daleep Singh was just in India.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q: Are you going to intensify some criticism of them and others who haven't done so?
MS. PSAKI: Well -- well, certainly our expectation and our public and private message is -- will continue to be that every country should abide by the sanctions that we have announced and that we are implementing around the world.
As you noted -- so let me start with India, if that's okay. As you noted, Daleep Singh, our Deputy National Security Advisor, was just there. I would note that, you know, just given some of the reporting, energy payments are not sanctioned; that's a decision made by each individual country. And we've been very clear that each country is going to make their own choices, even as we have made the decision and other countries have made the decision to ban energy imports.
What -- what Daleep did make clear to his counterparts during this visit was that we don't believe it's in India's interest to accelerate or increase imports of Russian energy and other commodities.
Right now, just to give everybody the full scope of it, India's imports of Russian energy represent only 1 to 2 percent of their total energy imports.
So, while he al- -- he explained both the mechanisms of our sanctions and reiterated that any country or entity should be abiding by those, we also made clear that we'd be happy to be a partner in reducing their reliance or even their small percentage of -- of reliance on that.
As it relates to China -- I know that Jake spoke to this the last time he was here -- our assessment hasn't changed on that front, but we continue to convey the same expectations of abiding by sanctions.
Q: And then, on COVID funding, there are reports that the Republicans and Democrats in the Senate are nearing a deal on a $10 billion package that doesn't include global aid. Is a package of that size, and that doesn't include global vaccine assistance, something that President Biden could sign into law?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that we are encouraged by the strong progress that Congress is making in finalizing a deal -- not yet final, but finalizing a deal -- to fund some of our most very urgent COVID response needs.
I would remind everyone that what we had requested was $22.5 billion, not $10 billion, in order to achieve a number of objectives -- including securing enough booster shots for the general population; purchasing more monoclonal antibodies and Evusheld for the immune- -- immunocompromised; maintaining our testing capacity; getting shots in arms abroad, to go to your question; and funding for variant-specific vaccines if needed.
So, this does not -- will, obviously, not meet all of those -- all of those needs -- dire needs in this country. And certainly, our objective would continue be -- to be to press for funding for international -- support for international -- for ensuring we continue to be the arsenal of vaccines in the world, regardless of what this final package looks like.
I'd note that the reason that's so important is not just because of the need to have vaccine doses, it's because we need to -- a lot of -- there are countries around the world who are refusing our vaccine dose- -- doses because they don't have the mechanisms, the know-how, and the capacity to be able to distribute those doses. So that funding that we've been requesting and we'll continue to press for would be accounting for that as well.
I -- can I note one more last thing? Sorry, I've got a lot on this. Is -- I would also note that as you're watching Congress and the Senate, there are a wide number of Republicans who have called for funding for and called for ensuring that we continue to be the arsenal of vaccine distribution around the world -- they don't use that exact phrase, but basically that's the basics -- including Senator Graham, who said, "I support the effort" -- just in June of last year -- "of the Biden Administration to donate vaccines to at-risk populations throughout the world."
Senator Portman said that -- that he is "pleased" that legislation -- this is last summer -- that has passed the committee at the time would help ensure that -- that domestic supply is part of our -- what we're doing in domestic supply -- excess domestic supply is part of our global vaccination strategy.
Senator McConnell said it would be "terribly unfortunate" if a supplemental COVID-19 funding package did not include international vaccines.
So I'm not going to prejudge where all they -- they will all be on this or future legislation. I would just note that if we want to continue to be providing to the world, we need money. And that's a case we will continue to make.
Q: Ukraine's Prosecutor General just suggested that there's more gruesome evidence of the aftermath of Russia's occupation around Kyiv, saying that the worst situation may, in fact, be in Borodyanka. I apologize if I don't pronounce that correctly.
But do you have a sense of how widespread this may be in the Kyiv region? I mean, I know Jake just said that you're going to continue to see these kinds of brazen attacks, but what more can you tell us about some of these other areas that we may be hearing about?
MS. PSAKI: I don't have a new or additional assessment. This is something we will continue to gather information on, and Jake, obviously, outlined a number of ways we will do that -- both by intel gathering, working with our partners and allies around the world.
But I would also note, Mary -- to go back to your earlier question -- that the fact that we're seeing these horrific images from Bucha around the wor- -- you know, now around the world, thanks to all of your broadcasts and many global broadcasters -- I mean, we have access. There's access to this area. There's not access to a lot of the areas around Mariupol and other areas of Ukraine where we have not even begun to see the impact of the atrocities and the impact of what, as Jake said, President Putin and the Russians made clear they were intending to do from the outset of the war.
So, while I don't have additional assessment, I would just note that, you know, we should brace ourselves for what we may see as we gain greater access and learn more about what atrocities they have implemented.
Q: Thank you. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. says that tomorrow she's going to go to New York and seek Russia's suspension from Human Rights Council.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q: Is that at the direction of the President?
MS. PSAKI: Yes. The President does not believe -- he believes it's ludicrous for Russia to be a member of the Human Rights Council. And certainly, the ambassador spoke to this today and while she was on her overseas trip, and she will continue to make the case in her role when she returns to New York.
Q: Why not seek to permanently expel them?
MS. PSAKI: From the Human Rights Council?
I would point -- I would point you to our U.N. ambassador on what specific steps, but obviously removing them would be the next appropriate step in the process.
Q: Thank you, Jen. So, President Biden is talking about putting Putin on a wartime trial. Does he expect Putin to turn himself in to stand trial? Or does he think somebody's going to have to go into Russia and arrest him?
MS. PSAKI: Well, without getting into the mechanisms -- which, I know, were the good questions everybody was asking our National Security Advisor -- there is precedent in the past of how this process can work.
We're not going to prejudge what the process would work or -- or what steps would be taken through -- through an international legal process.
So, that's not quite where we're at right now, Peter, and I can't give you a sense of the mechanisms of -- of, if convicted, what would happen.
A question about college sports. In some places like the Ivy League, now there are biological males competing against women. Does the White House think that is fair?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would note that we're not the governing body for the NCAA or any other system out there that -- I believe you're probably referring to the case over -- in swimming in the NCAA.
We understand how important sports are to student athletes across the country. But the NCAA obviously makes -- puts these policies in place.
What I would say, Peter, if we look at this broadly, is that we celebrated International Transgender Day of Visibility last week with a slate of new actions to ensure we are continuing -- we continue to protect the dignity and identity of all Americans.
And at a moment where we're looking at and we're seeing increased mental health issues related to young people, especially LGBTQ+ young people, we're providing additional funding and resources to address this issue.
And we hope all leaders can focus on those important issues and the impact on many of these young people who are impacted across the country.
Q: And then, what about this new law in Florida? At what age does the White House think that students should be taught about sexual orientation and gender identity?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first of all, Peter, we have spoken to the "Don't Say Gay" bill in the past -- I believe is what you're referring to --
MS. PSAKI: -- and made clear that as we look at this -- this law, what we think it's a reflection of is politicians in Florida propagating misinformed, hateful policies that do absolutely nothing to address the real issues.
The Department of Education is well positioned and ready to evaluate what to do next, and when -- and its implementation -- whether its implementation violates federal civil rights law.
But I would note that parents across the country are looking to, you know, national, state, and district leaders to support our nation's students, to ensure that kids are treated equally in schools. And that is certainly not -- this is not a reflection of that.
Q: And so, just the last one. So if you guys oppose this law that bans classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in K through 3, does the White House support that kind of classroom instruction before kindergarten?
MS. PSAKI: Do you have examples of schools in Florida that are teaching kindergarteners about sex education?
Q: I'm just asking for the President's opinion about this law.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think that's a -- I think that's a relevant question, because I think this is a politically charged, harsh law that is putting parents and LGBTQ+ kids in a very difficult, heartbreaking circumstance. And so, I actually think that's a pretty relevant question.
Q: On the Ukraine atrocities, Jake referenced some of the images that all our news organizations have been gathering. Is the administration able to gather other and document other cases that you have assembled that we may not be aware of, in terms of this collection of data on war crimes, rapes, murders -- things like that -- that we have not yet seen? Is there more data that --
MS. PSAKI: On the ground, you mean?
MS. PSAKI: So, I'm sure you've seen, Kelly, that the EU announced their intention to send a team there, which obviously hasn't happened yet. But that was an announcement made earlier today.
Certainly, through intel gathering, we likely do have access to different types of information. We have declassified a range of information over the course of time, which I would expect we continue to do -- we will continue to do.
Right now, I can't give you an assessment of what we may know that you don't know. But I would just say and reiterate what Jake said, which is we're going to use every tool at our disposal we can -- some of that is through intel channels; some of that is, of course, working with our counterparts around the world -- to gather as much data and information as we can.
It is difficult -- to go back to an earlier question -- given that we need access, or even our European friends and partners need access, to gather. But -- but it is vital, it is important, and we are going to do everything we can to support those efforts from here.
Q: And if the Russians are able to take some territory in the east and have greater stability of their control there, would it ever be the U.S. position that that could be a stable outcome? Or is maintaining the current map of Ukrainian sovereignty what the West would want?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, it's going to be up to the Ukrainians and Ukrainian leaders to determine what the diplomatic path forward looks like here -- what discussions, what negotiations they are comfortable with.
What our objective is and what tool we can -- we feel we can most be effective at, I should say, is supporting them and strengthening their hand in these negotiations. And that includes not just the economic support, the military support. I would note, over the course of the last couple of days, the Department of Defense announced an additional package beyond what was announced just a few weeks ago. So we're going to continue to do that.
But in terms of the negotiations and what they would be comfortable with, we're here to support them, and we're not going to predetermine that.
Q: Thanks, Jen. Just last week, you said that the U.S. is sending protective gear to Ukraine --
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q: -- to help shield Ukrainians from chemical weapons use. Have those deliveries been made, or have they started? Is there any timeline specifically for those deliveries? Because Jake did mention that deliveries have started.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I can check for you a status of that. We try to do it in an expedited manner. And we still have means of getting equipment of -- a range of equipment to people who need it on the ground. And I can check if that equipment has been delivered, or is in process -- I guess you're asking.
Q: And I have a quick question on Elon Musk and him picking up a 9 percent stake in Twitter, which makes him the largest shareholder in the company. Obviously, the White House uses Twitter quite extensively, and Musk has been very critical of President Biden. I'm wondering if there is perhaps any recalibration of the use of the platform or to what extent, you know, the White House is using Twitter, going forward.
MS. PSAKI: That's a decision of a private sector leader. I don't have any specific comment on it. But I expect we will continue to use Twitter, as you all will as well, I would expect.
Q: Thanks, Jen. I was wondering if you could elaborate a little bit more on President Biden and former President Obama and their relationship and how often and how they communicate. And you had mentioned that they are real friends and not just Washington friends. But given that they only live a few miles apart, why is this the first time that the former President has been invited to the White House?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, I have known them both for some time. And I have watched -- I watched their friendship grow over the course of the period of time when the President was vice president and when the former President was president.
And why I noted that at the top is because I think people who didn't have the seat I had may just think that it's like inviting any former President to the White House. And it certainly is not that. They talk on the phone; they do that on a regular basis. I'm not going to give you the number of times they've had conversations, but I would note they consult on a range of issues, but also about their families and things happening in their personal lives. And, you know, it's not a relationship of obligation. It's one where they developed a deep and close friendship through the course of their time serving together, and that has continued.
And tomorrow is, of course, exactly the right time to have the former President come here, given this is one of the proudest accomplishments that they worked on together, they shared together. And it is emblematic of their shared view and belief that government can work for people, and it can work for the American people. And this is an example of building on a success from more than 10 years ago and making it better over time.
So -- and I suspect that former President Obama will be back when there is a portrait unveiling and perhaps for other -- other engagements here as well in the future.
Go ahead, Karen.
Q: Thanks, Jen. Can you tell us how the President or if he -- the President has engaged with lawmakers in the last couple of days on the COVID funding deal? And has he talked to any Republicans on this?
MS. PSAKI: I'm not going to give you an outline or a detail of people he's spoken to. I will note that it's rare that I am in the Oval Office on any given day where he doesn't just pick up the phone and call a member of Congress, often a Republican -- at least when I'm in there -- to talk to them about a range of priorities.
This is clearly a huge focus for the President because of the dire need we have at this moment to get this funding through and the fact that we are already at a point where we have had to halt, delay a range of programs and purchases that we feel are imperative.
I would note that on the global side, you know, we are -- we already need to stop plans to expla- -- expand the global vaccination initiative to more countries. We'll also have to immediately scale back our global efforts to provide lifesaving tools -- this is a little bit of what I mentioned earlier -- like oxygen systems, antiviral pills -- things that can cut death rates by 90 percent for the unvaccinated.
And I would also note that, even as we're very encouraged by the progress, we're going to need more -- because our objective here is going to continue to be -- to be ahead of the process and be ahead in planning to make sure we can have funding for antivirals, the vaccines needed for people for many months to come.
Q: And just to be clear: So, he has been talking on this specific issue (inaudible) --
MS. PSAKI: He's been engaged with a range of members about a range of issues. This is a huge priority. I'm just not going to get into the details of what those calls look like.
Q: Thanks, Jen. I just wanted to clarify what I was asking Jake there, because it sounded like, at the end, he was leaving open the possibility of U.S. boots on the ground to protect civilians in Ukraine or to protect the supply chain.
MS. PSAKI: I don't think that was his intention.
Q: Okay. Because he did say, in terms of the supply chain or civilians, that you're discussing all possibilities with allies.
MS. PSAKI: We -- nothing has changed about the President's view about boots on the ground.
Q: So, the jobs report came out on Friday. Inflation is at 7.9 percent. It shows average hourly wages went up 5.6 percent. I wonder what the level of concern is for the President and the White House that people will stop spending because the stuff they want is more expensive and that leads us to a recession.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say on the latter part of your question that what we know is that the economy is strong, our recovery has been strong. And that continues to be -- while we, of course, are monitoring progress and where we have concern -- including rising costs and, obviously, the need to continue to address inflation -- that continues to be our assessment, which is -- which is even as there are challenges we need to continue to address, it means that we have a strong basis that we are building from.
I would remind you also that the unemployment rate is 3.6 percent. And the President created more jobs last year than any president in American history. So those fundamentals are also backed up by data.
And obviously, what we're trying to do -- as you know from following this closely, there are a couple of areas that are impacting rising costs more than others -- right? -- including the price of gas, including the price of automobiles and the impacts on the car industry of the lack of -- the chip shortages.
So, what we're also trying to do is take steps to address each area where we see rising costs. And obviously, the President's announcement on Thursday to do a historic release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, where we've seen already a small reduction in the price of gas and the price of oil come down by several dollars, is an effort to bring down costs that are impacting people's checkbook, pocketbooks -- checkbook, et cetera.
Q: But you're not concerned about if consumers stop spending?
MS. PSAKI: We, of course, continue to assess, but I don't have any projection of that at this point in time.
Q: Well, one thing on the wealth tax. Elon Musk tweeted out last week that Tesla and SpaceX would "have died" if such attacks existed in 2008, after the Great Recession. With the push for EVs and space exploration, what's the White House level of concern that that a wealth tax could stifle innovation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would first say that, you know, right now, America's teachers and firefighters pay a higher tax rate than billionaires. I don't even think Elon Musk probably thinks that's fair. I don't know who thinks that's fair. It's not fair, and that should not be the case.
And so, what this proposal does and why the President supports it, in his view, is it fixes that. And this would close an unfair tax loophole and promote economic growth by encouraging productivity, enhancing investments.
And, really, what it does -- to get into the nitty gritty of it -- is, you know, right now, the super wealthy -- billionaires -- I think everyone considers them super wealthy -- are able to access the value of their assets, even if they never sell them, in order to finance lavish consumption.
And right now, billionaires with unrealized gains borrow against their assets during li- -- their life at ultra-low interest rates. And when -- when they die, they get a step-up in basis and no tax is paid on the appreciation of their asset. In other words, their income is never taxed.
That's not fair. And I think what the President is trying to do and what many senators and others support is closing that. Why that should impact a lack of innovation, I think there should be more explanation on. This is trying to make the system more fair.
Go ahead. Oh, sorry, Weijia. I'll come back to you. Go ahead, in the middle.
Q: Thank you. Thank you, Jen. It seemed U.S. senators have written President Biden, urging him to designate Cameroon for TPS. Is that something he's willing to do?
MS. PSAKI: That's -- an assessment is made by a process led by the Department of Homeland Security, so I don't have any prediction of that at this point in time.
Q: And then on his approval rating: When he came into office last year, he was around 60 percent and even more, and now he's around 40 percent and sometimes less. Who does he blame now: Putin, Trump, you -- the communication team?
MS. PSAKI: Oh, does he blame me? Oh, I don't know. (Laughter.) I hope not.
Look, I think that the President recognizes that the country is still grappling with a number of challenges that impact people and their everyday lives, whether that is a continuing fight with a pandemic that has been going on for several years or the fact that costs are going up. Some of those are a result of the actions of President Putin -- yes, as it relates to gas prices -- but others are related to impacts of COVID-19 and impacts on the supply chain.
So, what our focus is and his focus continues to be: on solutions to address these challenges, and keeping our heads down and trying to continue to deliver for the American people.
Go ahead, Weijia.
Q: Thanks, Jen. Shifting to Russian billionaires because, today, the DOJ announced the seizure of that --
MS. PSAKI: Yes. Yeah.
Q: -- huge, $90 million yacht. Is there any evidence that zoning in on Putin's close allies in this way -- seizing their assets -- is having an impact on his calculations? And if not, what is the end goal here to try to apply pressure to Putin himself?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it's not the only approach we're taking -- right, Weijia? -- but it is one of the steps that we have -- our national security team determined from the beginning would hopefully be effective on putting necessary pressure on. That includes significant consequences we have implemented on the Russian economy, but it also includes going after people who are in the inner circle and are close, where their actions have warranted that, including Russian oligarchs.
But it is not our -- our expectation is not that one component is going to lead to a direct change. These are just a range of pressure points, and we're going to lu- -- use all of them that we possibly can.
Q: What is the hope that this particular action will take? What -- because we're seeing so many images of yachts around the world being seized, other assets being seized.
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, it's one of several actions we're taking. And I think if you look at the totality of it and the pool of the actions, the Russian economy has been on a downward spiral. There are businesses -- private sector businesses around the world have pulled their -- their business and their investments out of Russia. They're isolated from the world. The oligarchs are isolated from the world. All of these are meant to be consequences and meant to, of course, impact the calculation over the longer term.
Q: And then just one quick one --
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q: -- on the President's announcement last week about the
strategic supply of oil.
MS. PSAKI: Yep.
Q: So, you know, the crude prices came down -- we saw that almost right away -- but how long do you expect that Band-Aid will hold if OPEC does not also agree to ramp up production, which it has not so far?
MS. PSAKI: Well, here's how you should look at it. It was intentionally done as a million barrels a day over the course of six months because we knew there needed to be, kind of, a gap filled for that period of time, where our expectation and hope is that there could be greater production by the oil companies over that course of time.
There are also steps -- as you've seen, this as a coordinated release around the world, and there was an announcement last Friday about that as well -- by other countries to help fill the gap that we see from Russia and from the fact that their oil is not contributing as much as it had historically onto the global marketplace.
And obviously, oil prices are global -- I mean, it's a global marketplace. So, we're already seeing, as you said, a reduction, but this is meant to be a six-month effort to kind of bridge the gap in many ways for that period of time and ramp up production in a range of ways.
Yes, you referenced OPEC Plus, but also other countries last Friday announced their plans and their intentions to release more oil to help meet the supply needs on the market. That's what we're intending to do here, and we're going to continue to look at many ways to achieve that objective.
Q: Iran, over the weekend, said that a deal was close. We heard something different from U.S. officials only days before that. So, what is the current assessment of that deal?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our assessment is that the onus for concluding this deal is squarely on Iran. Together with our European allies, the United States has negotiated the roadmap for a mutual return to compliance through the Vienna talks. The President will reenter the deal if it's in our national security interests. And both ourselves and our allies are prepared to conclude a strong agreement if Iran is prepared to do the same.
What we've seen, however, is that Iran has raised a number of issues that has nothing to do with the mutual compliance under the nuclear deal. And that is where our focus and our objective is. So, we would encourage Iran to focus on the deal negotiated in Vienna, rather than seeking to open issues outside the Vienna context or casting blame, of course, on others for a pause in the talks.
Q: Is the White House making a -- any push this week -- last-minute push -- to get another Republican or two to support Judge Jackson?
And secondly, if you could reflect on what Senator Graham said about if Republicans were in control, that she wouldn't get a hearing.
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me say on the first part that our view continues to be that Judge Jackson's credentials, her record warrant bipartisan support. We've seen some of that to date. But certainly, we're going to continue to work the phones up until the last moment here. But I can't make a prediction for you on what the end result of that will be.
I would say on Senator Graham's comments, I think the best questions are probably posed to Senator Graham. I would remind you all that he has previously voted for Judge Jackson when her record and her credentials were exactly the same as they are today. So, it seems like there's more questions that could be posed to him.
Q: As a follow-up on the Senate Supreme Court confirmation hearing: Republicans have said that they wanted to -- that this would be a respectful and fair process, and it's been very contentious.
Given Senator Graham's comments, what do you think is the nature of the Supreme Court as we look ahead for the future, not just this Supreme Court nominee but for future nominations, given the contentious comments from Senator Graham?
MS. PSAKI: Well, look, I think that our view continues to be that qualified nominees, those who meet every objective bar of qualification of backgrounds should be considered and treated with fairness as they go through the process. That's how President Biden is going to continue to -- to operate. And that's how we would expect every member of the Senate to continue to operate.
So, obviously, his comments are disappointing, but our focus needs to continue to be on supporting Judge Jackson and her path to the Supreme Court.
Q: Thanks, Jen. I wanted to ask two questions -- one about refugees and one about the Supreme Court.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q: On refugees, the 100,000 number that the President put out when you all were in Europe --
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q: -- can you talk about how you arrived at that number and what preparations are being made at this point to accept those refugees? I haven't seen the State Department really put out a lot of detail yet.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, I expect we'll have more soon. And I think the understandable questions are kind of the prioritization and how the process will work and what the models will be -- all very good questions. And we're just working through the final pieces of the policy process at this point in time.
In terms of the number, it doesn't mean we will -- we will reach that number. As you know, while there have been a startling number of refugees -- individuals who have been kicked out of their homes because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine -- the vast majority of them want to stay in neighboring countries. And that continues to be our expectation.
But this is just an effort for us to play a role, beyond the historic amount of humanitarian assistance and support we're providing to neighboring countries, to ensure that we can find a pathway for those who want to come to the United States to come here too.
But we're still finalizing the policy details, and hopefully we'll have more soon on that for you.
Q: I wanted to ask one more on the Supreme Court.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q: President Biden was asked last week about Justice Clarence Thomas. I believe he said something -- or he said it was up to the Justice Department or the January 6th Committee on whether Justice Clarence Thomas would recuse himself from any of those cases -- those being the January 6th cases.
Judicial ethics mean that the Supreme Court Justice generally makes his own decision on recusals. Does the President still agree with the view of the Justice Department or January 6th Committee should decide? Has he taken a position at this point on whether Justice Thomas should recuse himself?
MS. PSAKI: That's a decision up to the Supreme Court. We don't have any additional position from here.
Q: They were friends from the time they were on Foreign Relations Committee together.
So in terms of -- Japan has the largest number of U.S. troops. Is there some way that they could be involved, as a country that also went through war, with this current situation in Russia? And do you know if they've been included in some of these discussions going forward?
MS. PSAKI: I know that they have been included and a part of the conversations, including during President Biden's recent trip to Europe, and that our partnership and friendship with Japan continues as we discuss how to help support Ukraine through the invasion -- Russia's invasion.
Q: Jen, I believe you're running out of time. Maybe just a couple more?
MS. PSAKI: Okay, we're going to do one or two more.
Q: Amid the Ukraine crisis, we know the United States and Russia are still working together on Afghanistan issues. Actually, last Thursday, March 31st, there was a meeting in China where the U.S., China, and Russia delegations went over this issue. Can you describe the working relations between U.S. and Russia on this meeting? And what's China's role on it? Do you worry China might take advantage of the tension between the U.S. and Russia right now?
MS. PSAKI: China -- and just to make sure I'm unpacking your question: What you're asking about -- you're asking about a meeting on Afghanistan between Russian, U.S., and Afg- -- I'm sorry, Chinese officials?
MS. PSAKI: I would really point you to the State Department. I'm happy to get more details on it and see. I would note that Russia and China are both members of the P5+1. And obviously, we're continuing to pursue a diplomatic deal there as well. So, there are other examples of us working, even as we are horrified by the atrocities in Ukraine.
Okay, last one.
Q: Thank you, Jen. Moments ago, you said that it was "ludicrous" that Russia would be allowed to sit on the U.N. Human Rights Council. I'm wondering if the President wants to see China remain on that Human Rights Council as well, given that his administration has already made a determination that China is engaged in genocide against the Uyghur people.
MS. PSAKI: Well, our focus right now on the international stage on this question is on Russia, given the invasion of Ukraine and given what we're seeing -- the photos from Bucha, others that we may see in the future.
Obviously, we will continue to press publicly and privately where we have concerns about human rights violations, including as it relates to China.
Thanks so much, everyone.
Joseph R. Biden, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/355326