White House press secretary Jen Psaki holds a news conference which included Deputy National Security Advisor Anne Neuberger’s information on cyber attack threat risks.. YouTube Tips ⓘ
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki and Deputy NSA for Cyber and Emerging Technologies Anne Neuberger, March 21, 2022
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Okay, we have a very special return guest today, Deputy National Security Advisor Anne Neuberger, who is here to provide a brief update on cyber. You probably have seen the statement from the President we issued, as well as a factsheet; she’ll talk about that. Has a little bit of time to take some questions, and then we’ll do a briefing from there.
With that, I’ll turn it over to Anne.
MS. NEUBERGER: Thank you, Jen. Good afternoon, everyone.
This afternoon, the President released a statement and factsheet regarding cyber threats to the homeland, urging private sector partners to take immediate action to shore up their defenses against potential cyberattacks.
We’ve previously warned about the potential for Russia to conduct cyberattacks against the United States, including as a response to the unprecedented economic costs that the U.S. and Allies and partners imposed in response to Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine.
Today, we are reiterating those warnings, and we’re doing so based on evolving threat intelligence that the Russian government is exploring options for potential cyberattacks on critical infrastructure in the United States.
To be clear, there is no certainty there will be a cyber incident on critical infrastructure. So why am I here? Because this is a call to action and a call to responsibility for all of us.
At the President’s direction, the administration has worked extensively over the last year to prepare to meet this sort of threat, providing unprecedented warning and advice to the private sector and mandating cybersecurity measures where we have the authority to do so.
For example, just last week, federal agencies convened more than 100 companies to share new cybersecurity threat information in light of this evolving threat intelligence. During those meetings, we shared resources and tools to help companies harden their security, like advisories sourced from sensitive threat intelligence and hands-on support from local FBI field offices and sister regional offices, including their Shields Up program.
The meeting was part of an extensive cybersecurity resilience effort that we began in the fall, prompted by the President. Agencies like Energy, EPA, Treasury, and DHS have hosted both classified and unclassified briefings with hundreds of owners and operators of privately owned critical infrastructure. CISA, NSA, and FBI have published cybersecurity advisories that set out protections the private sector can deploy to improve security.
The President has also directed departments and agencies to use all existing government authorities to mandate new cybersecurity and network defense measures. You’ve seen us do that where we have the authority to do so, including TSA’s work that mandated directives for the oil and gas pipelines following the Colonial Pipeline incident that highlighted the significant gaps in resilience for that sector.
Our efforts together over the past year has helped drive much-needed and significant improvements. But there’s so much more we need to do to have the confidence that we’ve locked our digital doors, particularly for the critical services Americans rely on.
The majority of our critical infrastructure, as you know, is owned and operated by the private sector. And those owners and operators have the ability and the responsibility to harden the systems and networks we all rely on.
Notwithstanding these repeated warnings, we continue to see adversaries compromising systems that use known vulnerabilities for which there are patches. This is deeply troubling.
So we’re urging, today, companies to take the steps within your control to act immediately to protect the services millions of Americans rely on and to use the resources the federal government makes available. The factsheet released alongside the President’s statement contains the specific actions that we’re calling companies to do.
I would be remiss if I didn’t reiterate the President’s thanks to Congress for its partnership in this effort, including making cybersecurity resources available in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and, most recently, for working across the aisle to require companies to report cyber incidents to the federal government. That will ensure federal resources are focused on the most important cyber threats to the American people.
We welcome additional congressional work to identify new authorities that can help address gaps and drive down collective cybersecurity risk.
Bottom line: This is about us – the work we need to do to lock our digital doors and to put the country in the best defensive position.
And there is them. As the President has said: The United States is not seeking confrontation with Russia. But he has also said that if Russia conducts disruptive cyberattacks against critical infrastructure, we will be prepared to respond.
MS. PSAKI: All right. Let me just first ask, for those of you in the aisles, if you’re not a photographer, there’s plenty of seats. So if you could sit down, that would be great, and not crowd the others in the seats.
So, we don’t have unlimited time, so if people – we just want to get to as many people as possible.
So, go ahead.
Q Thank you, Jen. Hi, Anne. Just a quick question on the Viasat attack that happened on the 24th of Feb, the day Russia attacked Ukraine. We’ve obviously seen that impact satellite communication networks in Eastern Europe. And since then, the FBI and CISA have issued warnings that similar attacks can happen against U.S. companies.
Is the U- – is the U.S. in a position to perhaps identify who is behind the hack at this moment?
MS. NEUBERGER: It’s a really good question. So, first, I want to lift up: FBI and CISA and NSA also highlighted protective security measures that U.S. companies can put in place to protect against exactly that kind of attack. We have not yet attributed that attack, but we’re carefully looking at it because, as you noted, of the impact not only in Ukraine but also in satellite communication systems in Europe as well.
Q Does the sophistication of the attack, perhaps the timing of it, suggest that it’s a state actor? I mean, are you willing to –
MS. NEUBERGER: Those are certainly factors that are – we’re looking at carefully as we look at who is responsible for them.
MS. PSAKI: Phil.
Q The “evolving intelligence,” it doesn’t mean that it’s a certainty there’s going to be an attack. Can you explain for the layman what you’re seeing right now that precipitated this statement today, and what the evolving intelligence may be now compared to on the 24th or prior to the invasion?
MS. NEUBERGER: Absolutely. So, the first part of that is: You’ve seen the administration continuously lean forward and share even fragmentary pieces of information we have to drive and ensure maximum preparedness by the private sector.
So as soon as we learned about that, last week we hosted classified briefings with companies and sectors who we felt would be most affected, and provided very practical, focused advice.
Today’s broader, unclassified briefing is to raise that broader awareness and to raise that call to action.
Q So there was something specific you saw last week that was raised to the industries that it would have affected, is what you’re saying?
MS. NEUBERGER: So I want to reiterate: There is no evidence of any – of any specific cyberattack that we’re anticipating for. There is some preparatory activity that we’re seeing, and that is what we shared in a classified context with companies who we thought might be affected. And then we’re lifting up a broader awareness here in this – in this warning.
MS. PSAKI: Major?
Q Hey, Anne. When you say a “call to action,” many who hear you say that might believe that something is imminent. Is it?
MS. NEUBERGER: So, first, a “call to action” is because there are cyberattacks that occur every day. Hundreds of millions of dollars were paid in ransoms by U.S. companies just last year against criminal activity happening in the U.S. today. Every single day, there should be a call to action.
We’re using the opportunity of this evolving threat intelligence regarding potential cyberattacks against critical infrastructure to reiterate those with additional focus specifically to critical infrastructure owners and operators to say, “You have the responsibility to take these steps to protect the critical services Americans rely on.”
Q And as a follow-up: “Critical infrastructure” is a broad term. Is it as broad as you typically mean it when the government speaks about critical infrastructure, or is there something you’ve seen that you can be more – a little bit more specific within that large frame of critical infrastructure?
MS. NEUBERGER: I won’t get into specific sectors at this time, because the steps that are needed to lock our digital doors need to be done across every sector of critical infrastructure. And even those sectors that we do not see any specific threat intelligence for, we truly want those sectors to double down and do the work that’s needed.
MS. PSAKI: Jacqui.
Q You guys, the administration, successfully declassified a lot of intelligence about what the Russians were planning leading up to the invasion to prebut what they might do. Can you do that a little bit here and at least list some of the industries that might be the biggest targets so that they can have a heightened awareness about what might be coming?
MS. NEUBERGER: As we consider declassifying intelligence, to your excellent point, that really has been the work that has been done the last few weeks and was driven by a focus on outcomes. It was driven by the President’s desire to avoid war at all costs, to really invest in diplomacy.
So, as we consider this information, the first step we did was we gave classified, detailed briefings to the companies and sectors for which we had some preparatory information about. And then for those where we don’t, that’s the purpose of today’s unclassified briefing: to give that broad warning. And I want to lift up the factsheet, which is really the call to action for specific activities to do.
Q So you believe the people, the industries that need to know about this risk know?
MS. NEUBERGER: We believe the key entities who need to know have been provided classified briefings. I mentioned, for example, just last week, several hundred companies were brought in to get that briefing.
MS. PSAKI: Peter.
Q Does the U.S. have any evidence that Russia has attempted a hack, either here in the U.S., in Europe, or in Ukraine, over the course of the last several weeks since this offensive began?
MS. NEUBERGER: So, we certainly believe that Russia has conducted cyberattacks to undermine, coerce, and destabilize Ukraine. And we attributed some of those a couple of weeks ago.
We consistently see nation states doing preparatory activity. That preparatory activity can pan out to become an incident; it cannot. And that’s the reason we’re here.
Q So, specifically in the U.S., as there was an assessment early on that we thought that we would be a likely target here, why do you think we have not seen any attack on critical infrastructure in the United States to this point so far?
MS. NEUBERGER: I can’t speak to Putin or Russian leadership’s strategic thinking regarding how cyberattacks factor in.
What I can speak to is the preparatory work we’ve been doing here in the U.S. and the fact that as soon as we have some evolving threat intelligence regarding a shift in that intention, that were coming out and raising the awareness to heighten our preparedness as well.
Q So you can’t say declaratively that we stopped an attack, I guess I’m saying, to this point on critical infrastructure?
MS. NEUBERGER: Correct.
Q Okay. Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Colleen.
Q Can you explain a little bit more what preparatory activity on the part of the Russians would be? What does that look like?
MS. NEUBERGER: So, preparatory activity could mean scanning websites; it could be hunting for vulnerabilities. There’s a range of activity that malicious cyber actors use, whether they’re nation state or criminals.
The most troubling piece and really one I mentioned a moment ago is we continue to see known vulnerabilities, for which we have patches available, used by even sophisticated cyber actors to compromise American companies, to compromise companies around the world. And that’s one of the reasons – and that makes it far easier for attackers than it needs to be.
It’s kind of – you know, I joke – I grew up in New York – you had a lock and an alarm system. The houses that didn’t or left the door open clearly were making it easier than they should have. Right? No comment about New York. (Laughter.)
So, clearly what we’re asking for is: Lock your digital doors. Make it harder for attackers. Make them do more work. Because a number of the practices we include in the factsheet will make it significantly harder, even for a sophisticated actor, to compromise a network.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Sorry, just to be clear: The warning today, is this in response to some of these more desperate tactics we’ve seen from Russia on ground? Are you now fearing that there might be more of a cyber risk because of what we’re seeing on the ground in Ukraine?
MS. NEUBERGER: So, we’ve given a number of threat intel- – of threat warnings over the last number of weeks that Russia could consider conducting cyberattacks in response to the very significant economic costs the U.S. and partners have put on Russia in response. This speaks to evolving threat intelligence and a potential shift in intention to do so.
Q And do you have a message for individuals? You’re talking a lot about private companies. What about households? Should they be worried about cyberattacks here?
MS. NEUBERGER: The items in the factsheet apply to companies and individuals as well. I’m specifically speaking to companies because there’s a responsibility to protect the critical services Americans rely on. But every individual should take a look at that fact sheet because it’s a truly helpful one. We only put in place the things that we really try to practice and work to practice ourselves.
MS. PSAKI: Jordan.
Q Thanks. As part of this preparatory activity, do you have evidence that Russian hackers have infiltrated the networks of U.S. companies already and just haven’t carried out the attacks?
MS. NEUBERGER: There was – as I noted, we frequently see preparatory activity. Whenever we do, we do sensitive warnings to the individual companies and provide them information to ensure they can look quickly at their networks and remediate what may be occurring.
Q So have you seen any evidence that there have been infiltrations as part of that activity?
MS. NEUBERGER: We routinely see information about infiltrations. Right? Technology is not as secure as it needs to be. I mentioned the ransomware activity. There are multiple nation-state actors. It’s a line of work for the intelligence community and the FBI to knock on a company’s door and say, “We’ve seen some evidence of an intrusion. We’ll work with you. We’ll make these resources available via a regional office to work with you to help you recover.” That’s – that’s pretty routine practice.
What we’re seeing now is an evolving threat intelligence to conduct potential cyberattacks on critical infrastructure. And that raises up a point because we’re concerned about potential disruption of critical services.
MS. PSAKI: Ken.
Q Anne, you did a briefing for us about a month ago. Do you think the U.S. banking system is more vulnerable, less vulnerable since the briefing, given the warnings that the government has produced?
MS. NEUBERGER: The U.S. banking sector truly takes cyber threats seriously, both individually and as a group. Treasury has worked extensively with the sector to share sensitive threat intelligence at the executive level, at the security executive level, repeatedly at the classified and unclassified level. So, I do not believe they’re more at risk, but it is always important for every critical infrastructure sector to double down in this heightened period of geopolitical tension to carefully look at any threat.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Can you paint a worst-case scenario picture for us? What exactly are you most worried about if people – the private sector chooses to not take these steps?
MS. NEUBERGER: Clearly, what we’re always – I won’t get into hypotheticals, right? But the reason I’m here is because critical infrastructure – power, water, many hospitals – in the United States are owned by the private sector. And while the federal government makes extensive resources available – I mentioned FBI’s 56 regional offices – you can just walk in; CISA has offices near most FEMA sites in the United States. They’ve had their Shields Up program. We can make those resources available. For those sectors where we can mandate measures like oil and gas pipelines, we have. But it’s ultimately the private sector’s responsibility, in our current authority structure, to do those steps, to use those resources to take those steps.
So, the purpose here is to say: Americans rely on those critical services. Please act. And we’re here to support with the resources we have.
MS. PSAKI: Kayla, last one.
Q Thank you. Anne, are you still seeing the Russians carrying out cyberattacks inside Ukraine? It’s been a few weeks since we’ve been discussing that in particular.
And as financial tools levied by the West have proven ineffective, what cyber tools does the West have that it can possibly utilize?
MS. NEUBERGER: We do continue to see Russia conducting both – as you know, right? – significant malicious activity in Ukraine; major kinetic attacks, which have disrupted and killed lives; as well as cyber activity. And we believe the unprecedented economic costs the United States and partners have levied is significant in that way.
With regard to your question about whether cyberattacks would change that: I think the President was very clear we’re not looking for a conflict with Russia. If Russia initiates a cyberattack against the United States, we will respond.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, Anne, so much for joining us.
MS. NEUBERGER: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Q Thanks, Anne.
Q Thank you, Anne.
MS. PSAKI: All right. I just had two brief items for all of you at the top.
There was a scheduled meeting today that Secretary Yellen, Secretary Raimondo, Jake Sullivan, and Brian Deese had with 16 CEOs this afternoon. The President also dropped by for about 20 minutes and provided them an update on Russia, Ukraine. I’m sure we can get you a list of the attendees at that meeting as well.
Also wanted to note – a number of you have asked about whether the President would be watching the hearings today. One scheduling note is the Quint meet- – call he had this morning was at exactly the same time as her opening statement, but he did request regular updates – or has been requesting regular updates from members of the team on how the hearing is going.
And he also called her last night to wish her good luck this week at the hearings.
And I would also note that he’s very grateful to Judge Tom Grif- – Thomas Griffith, as well as Lisa Fairfax, for introducing her today.
So with that, I will stop. And, Colleen, why don’t you kick us off.
Q Okay. So, do you – can give us a readout of the call with the European leaders from earlier? Just sort of what was discussed, what happened.
And then I have one other question after that.
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. If you haven’t already – there should be a readout going out shortly, but let me give you a few of the preview points of this call:
During this call with President Macron of France, Chancellor Scholz of Germany, Prime Minister Draghi of Italy, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom, they discussed their serious concerns about Russia’s brutal tactics in Ukraine, including its attacks on civilians. They underscored their continued support for Ukraine, including by providing security assistance to the brave Ukrainians who are defending their country from Russian aggression and humanitarian assistance to the millions of Ukrainians who have fled the violence.
They also reviewed recent diplomatic efforts in support of Ukraine’s effort to reach a ceasefire.
I would note: The President will obviously see these leaders – a number of them – in person later this week. And this is a call with this group that he has already had a few times. And when he had the last call with them – I believe it was last week or the week before; it may have been last week – they talked about doing this on a regular basis, not necessarily because there is a big deliverable out of it but just to keep an open line of communication as they’re conti- – all continuing to respond to the brutal actions of President Putin in Ukraine.
Q And then, on the potential discussions with Ukrainian leaders and Russia, has the White House or has the President been in communication with Ukrainian leaders, with Zelenskyy on this? Has he given any sort of counseling on how to go about these talks with Russian leaders in the hope of, you know, ending the conflict?
MS. PSAKI: We are in touch with the Ukrainian government – senior government officials every day. The President obviously speaks with – has spoken with President Zelenskyy a number of times, as you all know. And we convey, through all of those discussions, that we support any diplomatic effort that they choose to take part in.
The role that we feel we can play most effectively is by continuing to provide a broad range of security assistance, military assistance to them as well as economic and humanitarian assistance to strengthen their hand in these negotiations.
And what we always convey publicly and privately is that we’re going to be watching closely their actions, not just what words they say.
But we just continue to support their efforts and whatever decisions they make about choosing to engage diplomatically.
Q President Zelenskyy said if those talks don’t work out, it’s World War Three. Does the President agree?
MS. PSAKI: Without knowing more of what President Zelenskyy means by that, I would say that our view and the President’s view is that the way we need to avoid World War Three is preventing the United States from having direct military involvement on the ground and same on NATO, direct involvement on the ground, and that the most effective role we can continue to play is by providing that extensive military assistance that we have been providing – economic and humanitarian assistance. So, I can’t assess.
Obviously, I know many of you will speak or hear more from President Zelenskyy soon, and I would expect he can speak more to what he meant by that.
Q And related to that, does the President believe that President Zelenskyy owes him or other NATO leaders a check-in as these negotiations progress and as he may approach a final resolution? Meaning, does NATO or does the President want either implied or soft veto power over whatever Zelenskyy might decide to do?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we support President Zelenskyy and Ukrainian leaders’ decisions – ability to make their own decisions through the course of these negotiations.
Now, obviously, if it involves something related to the United States or NATO, we’re here to support. But, of course, we’d need to be engaged in that aspect of the discussion.
Q One last thing.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q On “Face the Nation,” the Chinese ambassador said China’s position is for peace and that it’s constantly doing everything it can to de-escalate. Do you agree with that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, what I would note –
Q Do you say it’s a fair characterization of what China is doing?
MS. PSAKI: Well, what I would note: Also in the same interview, he failed to condemn the actions of –
Q He said it wouldn’t do any good.
MS. PSAKI: – President Putin.
Q He said it wouldn’t make any difference. Do you agree with that?
MS. PSAKI: I think our view is that verbal condemnation of the actions of President Putin and the actions of Russian military is important and vital, and it’s about what side of history you want to stand on at this point in time.
At the same time, as you know, the President had a lengthy discussion with President Xi on Friday, and we’re going to continue to keep those lines of communication open.
But what we would note here is also what is absent from a lot of their public commentary, which is condemnation at times; sometimes it has been echoing of conspiracy theories that the Russians have put out there about chemical weapons. And we note that, you know, what we want to hear is condemnation of what we’re seeing on the ground.
Q Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Can you walk us through the President’s trip a little bit later this week? We know he’s going to stop in Brussels first, obviously. Then he goes to Poland, as you announced this weekend. Will he see refugees? Will he deliver a speech? Are there deliverables? Can you walk us through what you can tell us?
MS. PSAKI: There will certainly be deliverables, as there always are on these trips.
Q Yeah, there are.
MS. PSAKI: And – there always are. We’re still finalizing, believe it or not, the details of the trip and the specifics of what he’ll be doing while he’s in Poland.
He, of course, will be seeing his counterpart there. And he will certainly thank him for the efforts and the work that Poland has done and the leaders have done there to welcome refugees, to get them settled in Poland for this time being as devastating as the circumstances are.
Jake Sullivan is going to be joining us here tomorrow. And hopefully by then we will have more specifics to lay out for all of you, but we’re finalizing the details as we speak.
Q Let me ask you about their assessments we’re hearing from NATO right now that are – some are saying that if we’re not in a stalemate, we are rapidly approaching one. Does the U.S. have a position on that that appears to be the way this is heading and how that changes the sort of trajectory of this, and what your view is –
MS. PSAKI: You mean in terms of the military situation on the ground?
Q In Ukraine. Correct.
MS. PSAKI: Well, here’s what we’ve seen on the ground: We’re seeing that – the Department of Defense has assessed – and I know they’ve done briefings in this regard, so let me echo this – that there certainly could be some morale issues of troops on the ground, that they are in a stalemate in the sense that they have not been making the – the level of progress or the pace of progress that they had hoped from the beginning.
Now, obviously, things can change rapidly in conflicts, and so we are mindful of that as well. We’re also seeing, obviously, over the course of the last couple of days, that fighting around Mariupol is fierce but remains, at this point, isolated. It remains a high priority for Russia because it would provide President Putin with a land bridge to Crimea and cut off Ukrainian forces there from the rest of the country, provide the Russians with a new port.
But the military situation elsewhere in Ukraine, according to our assessment, remains largely static. It doesn’t mean that can’t change; it’s just an assessment as of this moment.
Q Last quick one, as it relates to Belarus: Right now, some in NATO are saying that Russia is preparing to potentially – or that Belarus is potentially preparing to let Russia position nuclear weapons on Belarusian soil. Does the U.S. have a message to the government of Belarus? And how would you view that escalation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t have any confirmation of those reports or suggestions. Certainly, that would be of concern to us, yes.
Go ahead, Jacqui.
Q Thanks, Jen.
In the past, you’ve said that domestic oil producers have the leases, resources that they need to ramp up production. Is there any thought about invoking the Defense Production Act when it comes to energy?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a range of ideas out there – that’s one of them – that a number of people have put forward. I would say that the Defense Production Act is – would mean giving government funding to companies or to purchase products. That’s how it typically works, as you’ve seen it work with COVID supplies and otherwise. And we think they have the resources they need in order to expand their production.
Q And then, on government money and supplies: There are reports that the EU is seeking to stockpile iodine pills and nuclear protective gear amid an increased concern about a nuclear threat, and also looking for more ways to deal with potential biological and chemical attacks.
Is the U.S. taking similar measures when it comes to these things, especially with iodine pills? Are we taking, sort of, the lessons learned in the pandemic and applying it to this challenge?
MS. PSAKI: Sure, Jacqui, it’s a good question. Let me check with our national security team and see if there’s any details I can get into. We are always prepared, even as we aren’t making predictions at this point in time. I don’t have confirmation of that report about the Europeans, but I will – I will check and see if there’s more to report out to all of you.
Q And then, there are reports that China has fully militarized at least three islands in the disputed South China Sea with anti-ship, anti-aircraft missile systems; laser and jamming equipment; and fighter jets, despite Beijing’s promises not to turn these islands into military bases. What is our takeaway from that? And how are we responding to that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Jacqui, again, I don’t have confirmation of that from here. I’ve certainly seen the reports. I would point you to the Department of Defense for any more specific analysis. But, obviously, any escalatory actions in the South China Sea would be of concern to us.
Q And then one more on the White House assessment of global food insecurity –
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q – that’s sort of coming out of all this in Ukraine.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Is there any – is there any money that’s going to be allocated to provide diesel fuel to Ukrainian farmers to try to mitigate some of this?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, so, let me – so, let me give you a couple of things on this, because there’s been a lot of interesting reporting on this, and where the impacts are is a good question.
While we’re not expecting a food shortage here at home, we do anticipate that higher energy, fertilizer, wheat, and corn prices could impact the price of growing and purchasing critical fuol [sic] supply – food supplies for countries around the world. And early estimates from the World Bank suggest disproportionate impacts on low- and middle-income countries including in Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia.
And actually – and Ukraine is a big exporter of fertilizer. So as it relates to even that need in the United States and other parts of the world, that’s something that we’re continuing to closely assess as well.
But right now, to go back to the root of your question, we are working with our partners in the G7, multilateral development banks, the World Food Programme, and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization to mitigate the impacts to poorer nations.
So we are discussing what that looks like and how to mitigate the shortage on those – on those growing and purchasing entities from impacting parts of the world that would be severely impacted, even if we’re not.
Q What kind of a timeline do we think we have to take some action on that before it becomes a really big problem?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there – there are active discussions now. And we’re certainly mindful that even if we’re not seeing an impact in this moment that sometimes supply chain impacts can have a lagging – can be a – have a lagging impact.
So we’re having discussions now with all of those partners. Those have been ongoing so we can do everything we can to mitigate it in advance.
Q And can I ask one question – just a reaction to the Israeli Prime Minister. This weekend, he said, on the JCPOA, “Unfortunately, [we’re seeing a] determination to sign a nuclear deal…at almost any cost, including saying the [biggest] terrorist [group] in the world is not a terrorist organization. This is too [steep] a price.” Can I get your reaction to that? Is that what we’re saying by pursuing this deal?
MS. PSAKI: I would say we are in regular touch with our Israeli counterparts, including leaders. We don’t have a deal yet. We’re consulting with our allies and partners, including Israel, as we negotiate.
And the President is going to make a decision on whether to reenter the deal based on what’s in the best interest of American security and strategic interests, including the security of our partners in regions like Israel.
And once – if and when we have a deal, I’m sure we can discuss more specifics. Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Jen. We’ve now had a chance to hear from some of the Judiciary Committee members in this confirmation for Judge Jackson. Any thoughts on whether she will receive bipartisan support in her confirmation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, without being able to get into the minds of a range of Republican members, our view is that given she has been confirmed three times with bipartisan support, that she has extensive experience, that she has ruled in favor of Democrats and Republicans under leaders of both parties, that she certainly deserves that. But we will see what the outcome ends up being.
Q And has the White House had any contact with Justice Thomas, given his hospitalization? Do you have any updates there?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of any direct contacts. Of course, we wish him a speedy recovery. And of course, thoughts – thoughts out to his family.
Q And just a quick follow-up on the NATO trip. Can you give us just the big picture of what would a successful NATO summit look like to the White House? What are we looking for to measure that?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I mean, I think what’s important to remember here from the beginning of the Presi- – of the President’s presidency but also, certainly, over the last couple of months is that unity has been front and center for the President in terms of how – what will make us successful over time – unity with our European counterparts, unity among NATO, unity among the G7. And that doesn’t happen by accident.
And so, coming out of this, what the President is hoping to achieve is continued coordination and a unified response to the continued escalatory actions of President Putin.
Q The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. was asked about this this weekend, but given the Poles appear to be planning to put upon the table some type of peacekeeping force idea, is there any feasible structure that the White House could support for something like that? Or have you guys looked into the idea at all?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we, of course, will continue to work with Poland and other allies and partners in Europe to provide support for the Ukrainian people and help them defend their country against Russian aggression and provide relief to the people of Ukraine. And we will continue to impose severe consequences.
The President – we’ve been – he’s been clear: We’re not going to send American troops to fight Russian troops. It’s not in the interest of the American people or our national security. But we’ll continue to discuss a range of ideas, including this one out there.
Q And then, there’s been, kind of, a reinvigoration in the EU of discussions about banning – or sanctions on energy. Can you update us on what the efforts in the administration has been to kind of backfill, which would, I think, be a necessity if those actions were taken? Where do those stand at this point?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. In terms of engagements with global energy suppliers? Those engage- – engagements are ongoing. And, you know, they are – they are led, in part, by Amos Hochstein, Brett McGurk has been involved in many of them, other members of our national security team and National Economic Council. And we are continuing to discuss with a range of large global suppliers how we can meet the demand in the market out there.
We also are continuing to look at domestic options and what those may look like to help ease the burden on the American public. I wish I had more specifics for you, but I don’t have anything more to read out for you at this point in time.
Q Thank you, Jen. The meeting you mentioned that President Biden participated in with CEOs earlier today, there were oil industry CEOs at that meeting. And considering the White House has been engaging with them for several weeks now – sort of, you know, talking about ways to increase production to take care of gas prices – I’m wondering what kind of specific assurances the White House has managed to get from these companies so far, and what was really discussed in today’s meeting, especially with the oil industry CEOs.
MS. PSAKI: Well, while the President was there, he was simply giving them an update on Russia and Ukraine. He was not making an ask at that – in that capacity. Obviously, there are a range of senior officials who participated in these meetings. We’ve had a range of engagements with them, as you’ve noted. And we’ve stated publicly that they should do greater production, but they can speak for themselves on what, if anything, they would commit to.
Q Have there been any assurances that the industry has perhaps offered the White House so far?
MS. PSAKI: We’ll let the oil industry speak for themselves.
Q Okay. And one quick question on China. Are you getting any indications yet that China will actually heed to President Biden’s appeal to President Xi to not provide material support to Russia? Or are you seeing, perhaps, evidence suggesting that Chinese companies are maybe violating or going around U.S. export controls to, you know, send the material – the U.S. material to Russia? I mean, do you – are you seeing any evidence to that effect?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an assessment to share on this. You can look at the public comments that one of your colleagues brought up earlier, during an interview yesterday, where the Chinese ambassador highlighted China’s friendly relations and maintenance of normal economic ties with Russia while also refusing to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But I don’t have a further assessment beyond that.
Q Thanks, Jen. The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned Ambassador Sullivan to the Ministry in Moscow and warned that U.S.-Russian relations are on the verge of rupture, said the President’s comments calling Putin a war criminal were unworthy of a statesman of such high rank. Does the White House have any response to this? And is there any concern about the warning that they’re going to respond with a “decisive and firm response”?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure – the last part – I’m not sure what you mean by that.
Q They warned of a “decisive and firm response.”
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Well, I would say that Ambassador Sullivan did meet with Russian government officials today; I believe the State Department also confirmed.
While we don’t provide extensive details in general of these type of diplomatic conversations, I can confirm for you that during that meeting, he repeatedly asked for consular access to American citizen detainees, which – who have been improperly detained ac- – been improperly denied access for months in some cases. We find this completely unacceptable.
As it relates to their comments or their calling of him in, I think it’s important to remind everyone that it is Russia who is carrying out an unprovoked, unjustified war on Ukraine.
We’re seeing clear evidence that they are intentionally targeting civilians and committing indiscriminate attacks. And the President’s comments speak to the horror, the brutality that Russia and President Putin are inflicting.
So, they are in control of their own – the global perception of them is based on their actions.
Q And one quick other one.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead. Yeah, go ahead.
Q So, you mentioned that the President spoke to Judge Brown Jackson last night. Is there any other details you can share just about how she’s been preparing for the hearings, who’s been involved in the practice sessions, or –
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I mean, I had outlined for you guys a couple of weeks ago some of the members of her team who played a role in preparing her, of course, whether it was Dana Remus or Senator Jones and Ben LaBolt, Minyon Moore – others who have been playing a role in preparing her for the hearings.
I would note – which won’t surprise anyone, given her credentials – she began preparing and studying and getting ready for these hearings as soon as she was nominated.
I would note that also, over the course of the last few weeks, she’s also met with every single member of the Judiciary Committee and then several more members beyond that.
So, she has been both meeting and preparing for the last few weeks, ever since she was nominated, with the team internally and externally that we had announced just a few weeks ago.
Go ahead, Zolan.
Q Does the administration expect to discuss the – Poland’s offer on the MiG fighter jets at this point? Or is the stance that the Pentagon has made the decision clear at that point and this won’t be a subject in anticipation of the President’s trip to Poland?
And then secondly, during the Vice President’s trip to Poland, the Pol- – Polish leaders, at that point, said one thing that – one ask that they had in that bilateral was to expedite the processing of Ukrainian refugees who have relatives in the United States.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Does – is the administration expecting to oblige on that request or meet halfway in any way?
MS. PSAKI: So, I would say that, while we have done our own assessment here on the Polish jets based on a couple of factors that the military – as you as you noted, Zolan – has outlined, including what’s most effective in fighting this war on the ground, the risk assessment of what would be escalatory, and also the fact that the Ukrainians have a number of squadrons that they can utilize.
But if Poland – if they want to raise this, I’m – you know, these – these conversations, these diplomatic negotia- – or conversations are two ways, right? And we’ll, of course, read out their meeting once it – once it is complete. So, we’ll see what they – what they raise in that meeting.
In terms of refugees, we are – we have taken a number of steps. And we do – part of what the President wants to do is thank President Duda for the efforts of Poland in welcoming refugees, and talk about what we can do to continue to provide support.
Now, to date, that has been largely financial support, humanitarian support, even as we granted Temporary Protected Status, and also – you know, just – just a few weeks ago.
But what we are doing and continuing to assess is what – if there are Ukrainian nationals who are not able to remain safely in Europe and for whom resettlement the United States is a better option, we are continuing to work with UNCR [UNHCR] and the EU to consider that.
And that might require – because typically, individuals who are seeking refugee status have to go to a third country. So that’s something we’re looking at and assessing.
And we’re also – the UNHCR, the U.N. Refugee Agency, is working with the State Department and many resettlement partners and our overseas posts to determine where the Ukrainian nationals and others who have fled Ukraine were – you know, whether there’s more we can do beyond the humanitarian assistance that we are providing.
So, I’m certain it will be a point of discussion. We are having ongoing discussions internally about what more we can do to welcome refugees.
Q And specifically, the thing that’s different about that process that the administration is looking at is allowing Ukrainians to basically finish the refugee process in that same country that they would receive a UNHCR referral?
MS. PSAKI: That’s part of the discussion is what can ha- – what can be done if Ukrainian nationals are not able to remain safely in Europe, for example, and for whom resettlement in the United States would be a better option for a range of reasons – the State Department is discussing with UNHCR and the EU how to consider them, what would be required for that process.
But this is an ongoing discussion internally. And I’m certain it will be a part of the discussion, to go back to your original question, with President Duda, as well, this weekend.
Go ahead, Matt.
Q Thanks, Jen. You had written on Twitter that the President –
MS. PSAKI: Uh-oh. (Laughter.)
Q – did not plan to go to Ukraine –
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q – on his trip. Given that the prime ministers of Poland, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic visited Kyiv last week and that President Zelenskyy was urging others to do the same, can you talk a little bit about whether President Biden had explored going to Ukraine at all, if he was asked to, and sort of what considerations went into the factors either way?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. We have not explored that option. I put that – I tweeted, I guess I should say, because there was some confusion about this question, and we did not want to leave that out there as an unanswered question.
But certainly, any president of the United States traveling into a war zone requires not only security considerations but also an enormous amount of resources on the ground, which is always a factor for us as we make considerations.
But also, the President felt and our national security team felt that he could have the most effective and impactful trip by convening these meetings with NATO leaders, the G7, the EU in Brussels to determine both continued military coordination, humanitarian and economic coordination, as well as by going to visit Poland, right next door, to talk about everything from refugees, refugee assistance, and continued assistance we can all provide together.
So, it was a decision made about what – what would be most effective on the trip.
Q And then I just wanted to follow up quickly. You had said earlier that the President was unable to watch the opening statement of the judge in the Supreme Court hearings. I think she –
MS. PSAKI: He was on with the Quint.
Q That’s right. But she has to sit through the opening statements, first, of all of these senators, so I don’t think she’s actually given her opening statement quite yet.
MS. PSAKI: Ah, there you go.
Q Do you know if there’s time carved into his schedule? Does he plan – through the afternoon? Is he following this? Or –
MS. PSAKI: Well, some of these are a little difficult to predict, as just evidenced. Thank you for giving me a lifeline there, because, clearly, I’ve been in meetings this morning as well.
You know, he – it was hard to plan his schedule around this, so what he asked is that he be provided updates from his team and aides as the – as the hearings progress.
And obviously, Chairman Durbin gave his opening, Senator Grassley gave his opening this morning, and it proceeds. But it’s hard to plan the President’s schedule around a moving Senate hearing.
So, I’m sure he’ll be able to watch replays of it and more specifics, but he wanted updates from aides as well.
Q Thanks. On – on oil, President Biden has been very vocal about his belief that U.S. producers should be producing more and that there’s the possibility of price gouging, but he didn’t raise any of those concerns in the meeting of oil CEOs earlier today?
MS. PSAKI: He – it wasn’t a meeting with oil CEOs. There were a couple of the 18 – or 16 to 18 CEOs there. It was not intended to be a meeting with oil CEOs; it was intended to be a meeting with a broad swath of the economic sectors. And he provided them an update on Russia and Ukraine, so it wasn’t meant to be that type of a meeting.
Q And then there was a report in the Washington Post earlier, saying that Biden administratia- – administration officials are seeing data showing that Russian oil exports have dropped off a cliff and that there was some – there was a data point that said there are 2 million barrels per day on tankers that have gone from close – down to zero in a certain period of time.
Is that – can you confirm that? Is that – is that true in what you’re seeing about Russian oil exports?
MS. PSAKI: I’ve seen those reports, but I don’t have a new assessment from here.
Q And then, lastly, has the President tested for COVID-19 this week? And what were the results of that test?
MS. PSAKI: He was tested today, and he was negative.
Q Thank you.
Q Thank you, Jen. Can you walk us through the administration’s thinking behind adding this Poland stop? And what is President Biden hoping to demonstrate by sitting alongside President Duda?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, we have – this – this trip has been coming together quite rapidly, I think, as you would all note. And so, as I noted a little bit earlier, we will have more details about his Poland stop.
But this is an opportunity for him to thank President Duda for welcoming refugees, as they have done over the last few weeks, and for being an important partner in providing a range of assistance to the Ukrainians – to the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian government. And they are an important partner as we – as we work to remain unified in the weeks and months ahead.
There will obviously be a couple of components of his trip there, which I think, as we have more details of it to announce, will showcase the purpose of the trip.
Q And then, to follow on that, one of my colleagues asked if the President would be meeting with Ukrainian refugees in – at one of these stops. Is there any reason why the President wouldn’t? Is that something we can find out more about soon?
MS. PSAKI: I think, as I noted, we’re going to be providing more details to all of you in the next 24 hours, of his trip. Sometimes there are things we announce in advance, and sometimes there are not. But I’ve noted repeatedly that refugees is a key component of his stop in Poland.
Q Yeah. If I can shift gears to COVID for a minute –
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q What is the White House’s response to some experts who have said that the U.S. is not necessarily doing enough to prepare for this next bit of a pandemic surge that we’re already beginning to see in other parts of the globe?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say – I’m not sure – can you give me a little more additional context of the comments?
Q I had seen – yes, some comments just basically that the U.S. needs to be doing more to prepare, whether that is around, you know, building up a supply. They pointed to the low rates of booster shots, in particular, as being a point of concern. And that was – yeah. And the booster shots, in particular.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think our primary concern right now is that we’re about to run out of funding, and we are always making an effort to be ahead of and be prepared for any new wave, any new variant.
And even as BA.2 has been in this country for some time –and, as of last week, it was about a quarter to a third of cases. We know it’s quite transmissible, but we know that the treatments we have are effective in treating BA.2 – the BA.2 variant.
Our concern right now is that we are going to run out of money to provide the types of vaccines, boosters, treatments to the immunocompromised and others free of charge that will help continue to battle increasing – you know, the increase or the upflow or the, you know, increase of – of COVID in the future.
So that’s where our primary focus is. I don’t – beyond that, I’m not sure additional context of those comments.
Q Can I ask just more question. Has the White House been in touch with any of the pharmaceutical companies who are specifically working on the under-age-five population, recently, vaccines? I know that those were put into practice and then removed in terms of actually having implementation. I just wondered what the communication has been.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, well, the – it typically goes, of course, through the FDA and CDC, as it should – all of the data. So we would leave those channels to continue to consider when it’s ready to move to the next phase.
Q So no sort of increased communication or urgency around getting (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think data moves, science moves at the speed of science, right? And, of course, we would all – many people here have children under five, but it’s important that it moves through the effective, gold standard process.
And of course, we are in touch with the pharmaceutical companies for a range of reasons, including purchasing supplies to plan ahead for the need for boosters and other vaccines in the future, even as we are worried about running out of money.
But the process for when it would be ready to go through the FDA and CDC process is left to the scientists.
Q Jen, can I ask –
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Jen, just on the food security issue –
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Cargill and ADM are still operating in Russia. A lot of companies have obviously left. Does the administration have a view on whether these companies should stay, given the concerns about food security and production of wheat and that sort of (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: We have not asked any company specifically to take steps to pull out. We have applauded those who have made that decision, and they are going to have to make decisions of their own regard.
Q Just a housekeeping item. I know you’re still getting plans for the trip. Do you expect the President to hold a joint news conference with President Duda after their meeting in Poland?
MS. PSAKI: We’re still planning all the specifics of it, so I don’t have that quite yet. I would expect one for sure on Thursday.
Q Jen, thank you so much. On Ukraine, we are seeing reports about Mariupol and about people and Ukrainians there being deported, arrested, and sent to remote regions in Russia. Is this something that is consistent with American intelligence? Can you comment on this?
MS. PSAKI: I – one, those reports are horrific, but I don’t – we don’t have any independent confirmation of those reports at this point in time.
Q And a follow-up on China, maybe? So, the President has warned that China would face costs if it decided to help Russia. How confident is he that European allies would also support such costs? And will that be part of the discussion in Brussels?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think that certainly any – the concern about China’s closer alignment with Russia is one that’s not just the United – one of the United States, it’s also a concern of many in Europe, and we expect it to be a topic of discussion over the course of the next several days.
Q Jen, as I understand the peacekeeping proposal from the Polish Prime Minister: It will be a peacekeeping force, they would be in Ukraine, and they would be able to defend themselves. So, I know the President doesn’t want to send Americans to fight Russians, but is the U.S. open to sending Americans as part of an internationally recognized peacekeeping force that could be NATO or not NATO?
MS. PSAKI: Again, these are a range of conversations that are happening behind the scenes. I’ll leave it to those at this point in time. But forces on the ground is certainly about fighting, but it’s also about having forces on the ground in Ukraine, which we have not supported at this point. I don’t think that will change.
Q Thanks, Jen. I have a question about the COVID-19 Response Team. Obviously, there’s going to be a change in leadership in the White House Coordinator on COVID.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q And, by my count, there hasn’t been a press briefing with the COVID team in about three weeks. I just wondered if you could speak to, kind of, what the role of that team is at this point. You know, how often does the President meet with that team? Is there any talk of disbanding it at this point, given the phase of the pandemic? I’m just kind of curious, sort of, what (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: I hope not, for Dr. Jha’s sake, given he’s coming in. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Look, this is – communicating with all of you on a regular basis has been a huge priority for the COVID team, and I’m certain we will continue to do that.
And, obviously, Dr. Jha is somebody who is not just a medical expert and a doctor, but somebody who is a very effective communicator on public health issues, and we think that’s going to be a very effective part of his role. So, I’m certain you will be seeing a lot of him, and we will continue to have a range of briefings with the COVID team. So, no, they’re not disbanding.
Q Thanks, Jen.
Q Thank you, Jen.
Q Go ahead. I’ll go after you.
Q I have questions. First, the United States declared the Myanmar military government committed genocide against the Rohingya, today. We also know the Myanmar government has supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And what happened to the Rohingya have happened for a while now. So, based on the timing, are they supporting the Russia related to this declaration today?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me say for those of you who haven’t – I know you’ve been following it as closely, but for those of you who have not: Following a rigorous, factual, and legal analysis, the Secretary of State determined that the members of – that members of the Burmese military committed genocide and crimes against humanity against a Rohingya – against Rohingya.
His announcement at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum emphasizes, especially to victims and survivors, that the United States recognizes the gravity of these crimes.
He also announced nearly $1 million for the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar to support its mandate to investigate, collect, preserve, and analyze evidence of the most serious international crimes in Burma since 2011.
I would note that our view is that shining a light on the crimes of Burmese military will increase international pressure, make it harder for them to commit further abuses. But this has been – as you know, Rohingya have long faced discrimination and been subject to exclusionary policies. And this has been a lengthy review process at the State Department to come to this conclusion, unrelated to current events.
Q My second question is – we’ve been talking about being in communication with China, including President Biden’s calling the President Xi last week. Besides the consequences China might face if it aids Russia, does the United States also tells China what would happen to Russia right now while or might also happen to China if it invades U.S. allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region, such as Taiwan?
MS. PSAKI: During this call, which was largely focused on Russia’s inte- – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the President also reiterated his support for the Taiwan Relations Act and the one-China policy based on the Taiwan Relations Act. And he made clear that we remain opposed to any unilateral changes to the status quo across the Taiwan Strait, and that we have concerns about Beijing’s coercive and provocative actions. So that was the other topic that was discussed at the meet- – during the call.
Q Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, and then we’ll go – okay, go ahead.
Q As the United States looks to up sanctions on Russia, and given Russia’s history of assassinating dissidents, giving sanctuary to terror- – U.S.-designated terrorist organizations, would the U.S. consider labeling Russia a State Sponsor of Terrorism?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any assessment of that at this point in time. Obviously, we’re continuing to look at the actions on the ground and the actions of leaders.
Q Thank you. Two immigration questions for you. First, I wanted to confirm whether the administration supports an Afghan Adjustment Act; that’s potential legislation that would secure permanent status for those thousands of evacuees that are here. It would go beyond, obviously, the TPS designation last week, which is 18 months.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I’d have to check with our Department of Homeland Security. Obviously, we just announced Temporary Protected Status last week, and we’re continuing to assess and consider a range of ways to welcome and – our Afghan partners.
Q And, just quickly: It’s been two years since President Trump implemented Title 42. There are protests outside the White House today. Democrats are now actively calling for it to end. COVID cases are low. Is the administration at least preparing for the possibility that this can end? And how so?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. There are timelines, including, I think, upcoming in April, on when it’s – continues to be reconsidered. And those discussions happen among the health experts from the CDC and other medical experts within the administration.
And you always have to prepare, because if they make that decision, there would be an implementation that would be, in part, led by the Department of Homeland Security and others that you have to plan for.
Q Does that include preparing for a large influx of migrants at the border, specifically?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly that would be part of it if – if and when the CDC makes that determination.
Q Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone.
Q Can I ask you –
MS. PSAKI: We’ll have Jake here tomorrow. Lots of questions, I’m sure you have.
Thank you, everyone.
3:41 P.M. EDT