3:06 P.M. EDTMS. JEAN-PIERRE: Good afternoon, everybody. Okay. Today I would like to welcome Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm b
3:06 P.M. EDT
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Good afternoon, everybody. Okay. Today I would like to welcome Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm back to the Briefing Room. Secretary Granholm is here to talk about gas prices and Putin’s price hike, which you just heard the President talk about just about an hour ago.
So we’re really glad to have her here. Secretary Granholm flew in over 800 miles — we were counting this up — just this morning to be here with all of you to take your questions, because we know how important this is to us and to the President. And so, therefore, she’ll have some brief remarks, and then she’ll take your questions.
Okay. All yours.
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Great. Thank you, Karine. Hi, everybody.
So as we all know, the summer driving season is underway, and Americans are paying more at the pump every time they fill up their gas tu- — gas tank.
This is a global problem. There are two causes for it, which these high prices derive from. One is, of course, Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine. Vladi- — Russia is a very high exporter of oil. Because of the invasion of Ukraine, countries like the United States and Canada rightfully have said, “We are not going to take any Russian oil.” Therefore, about a million barrels per day have been taken off the market as a result of that. And secondly, the supply and refining capacity constraints that have been created by COVID-19 in the United States but also around the world.
Since Putin’s buildup of troops began, our citizens are paying an additional $2.00 per gallon. And, of course, other countries are dealing with this as well. If you went to the UK today, for a gallon equivalent, you would be paying $7.71. If you went to France, you’d be paying $8.49. If you went to Canada, you’d be paying over $6.00 per gallon. If you went to Singapore, you’d be paying over $9.00 per gallon. So it’s happening around the world.
And President Biden, like all other leaders around the world, are grappling with this for their citizens. And the President is doing everything he can to reduce prices for American families.
So, as you heard today, the President is calling upon Congress to suspend the national gas tax for the next 90 days. Suspending the tax — the gas tax is going to provide families immediate relief from this Putin price hike. Of course, suspending the federal gas tax on its own will not solve the problem. It’s why the President is also doing several other things.
One, he’s calling upon states as well to consider doing gas tax holidays on the state side. He’s urging oil companies to use their profits to increase output. He is calling upon the industry to pass along the decrease in oil prices — which we have seen at the barrel level over the past week, for example, at the pump — and he is demanding that these — that the industry come to the table with some solutions on refinery, which is what is going to happen tomorrow when I’ll be meeting with many — the biggest refiners.
Collectively, we know that these steps will save American families their hard-earned dollars every time they fill up their gas tank. Of course, this is — sits in a context because the President has said that he is willing to use the full span of his authorities to help lower prices.
Just to remind you, of course, he’s used the biggest tool at his disposal, which is our Strategic Petroleum Reserve, releasing a million barrels per day to try to stabilize supply, even as demand increases too, especially with the summer driving season.
He has also rallied other countries to release from their reserves as well. Collectively, about 240 million barrels are being released from reserves around the world.
And he’s increased the share of biofuels in gasoline that can help lower prices at thousands of gas stations.
And, of course, at the same time, we are working to save money for people — have people save money by cutting other essential costs: for example, help with heating bills, weatherization; other ways that citizens are trying to grapple with these high fuel prices: energy efficiency, rental assistance, for example.
The fact is that no President alone can control the price of gasoline, and we need more players at the table. So the President is asking Congress to act. He’s asking states to act. He’s asking the oil and gas industry to do their part as well.
And I will say that many domestic producers have been heeding the President’s call to increase domestic supply, in terms of at the wellhead. We — you know, some, I know, have made the claim that this administration is in the way of domestic production. But the numbers here are inarguable: We are now at close to record levels of oil production here in the U.S., averaging now 12 million barrels a day.
Under this President, the Presid- — the country is producing more oil on average than it did during the Bush, Obama, or Trump administrations. But still, we need more creativity and collaboration to get us through this unprecedented situation.
And so, tomorrow, as I mentioned, I’ll be speaking with executives from the major domestic refiners to discuss actions that government and industry can take to increase capacity and to safely operate their existing refineries and to overcome the hurdles that are in the way to meeting American — America’s demand and to increase supply.
With so many businesses enjoying high profits, our message is simple: That this is the time to reinvest those profits that will enable them to better meet the needs of our citizens. And instead of using it for shareholders or stock buybacks — we are not against profit — we are encouraging these oil and gas companies to invest to help their citizen — fellow citizens, to help their own workers. We need them to come to the table.
The real truth is that as long as our nation rela- — remains overly reliant on oil and fossil fuels, we will feel the — these price shocks again. This is not going to be the last time. The next time there’s a war, the next time there’s a pandemic or another hurricane, these extreme weather events we are experiencing, they will impact the access that we have to fossil fuels.
The only way out of these boom-and-bust cycles is to break that sole reliance. And that means diversifying our fuel sources by deploying clean energy. And that’s why we’re laying a foundation for this clean energy economy with the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. It’s why the President has invoked the Defense Production Act to increase domestic manufacturing of these key clean energy technologies. It’s why we need federal clean energy tax credits to get the private sector jumping headfirst into these new markets, which will all make us secure both from a national security perspective and an energy security perspective, so that we are not under the thumb of petro dictators like Putin.
So we are looking at some significant challenges in the way of ensuring that American people have access to affordable clean energy, but we’re going to use every lever that we have across the federal government to overcome these challenges.
So, thanks for that. And I’m happy to answer any questions.
Q Secretary Granholm, you said that this will bring immediate relief if it gets passed to drivers. But if there’s no guarantee from companies that they will pass on these benefits to those drivers, isn’t there a chance that this passes and consumers, drivers see no benefit whatsoever?
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Well, it’s one of the reasons why I’m meeting with the refiners tomorrow, the oil companies tomorrow, to ensure that they would pass this on.
Second, there was — we have some evidence of this. Because in the — very recently, and even ongoing, there are states that have actually cut their gas tax. And Penn — Wharton — did a study about whether that was actually passed through, and they found that the majority of it, in fact, was.
So I get the nervousness about that, the mistrust about some of that. But our recent history suggests — and this just came out, this study, on June 15th — that there will be a passing through, and we want to — we want to make sure that that happens.
Q And did you and President Biden consult with Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill about them actually being willing to pass something like this before the President’s speech today?
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Well, as you know, we’re in touch with Congress all the time. And I know that there are a number of proposals in Congress that are already — that have already been, you know, proposed. I think Senator Kelly and Congressman O’Halleran. I think there were supportive statements from a number of members of Congress today.
So that is ongoing — that conversation is ongoing. I know that Speaker Pelosi just put out a statement and said that she’s going to bring it to the — to the caucus.
Q Yeah, thank you. So if in this meeting tomorrow the refiners don’t play ball or are not responding in a satisfactory way, what is the administration prepared to do? What emergency powers is the administration prepared to use? What’s the next step here?
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Yeah. Let’s just take it one step at a time. I believe that — you know, we are going into this to have an earnest conversation with them about what it would take. We know that there have been six refineries closed since 2020, a vast ma- — I think five of them in 2021 — in 2021. And we want to ask, “Is there capacity to bring something back online, to expand?” So let me — let’s see how that conversation goes. I don’t want to assume anything.
We know that they are feeling the pressure not just from the administration, but from people out there about the price at the pump. And it’s important that they listen to their own employees, as well as the communities that they serve.
Q Is this the kind of thing where the DPA could be used?
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: It’s a tool. It’s certainly a tool, not to — let me just be clear about this: The DP- — I want to hear from them, “Is there a — is there a chink in the supply chain that is preventing some refinery from coming back online? Is there something that’s difficult to acquire?”
Those are the kinds of questions we’ll be asking.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: In the back. Go ahead.
Q Thank you. Thank you, Secretary Granholm. The President has said of the war in Ukraine and the subsequent price hikes that have resulted that, quote, “We will be stronger and the world will be stronger and less reliant on fossil fuels when all this is over.” So I’m wondering: Does he fear that by pausing the gas tax, that by giving a sort of gas-addicted economy another hit that he might be slowing that transition away from fossil fuels?
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: I think what he’s most concerned about is what real people are experiencing right now in their pocketbooks, this — especially for moderate — for low-income people who have no choice that they have to get to work. This is really what the President is fixated on: How do we provide relief to real people?
We can, we want to, and we must move to a clean energy future. And we can accelerate production right now. I mean, let’s be very clear that fossil fuels will remain in the mix of the energy system of the globe for years to come. This is why we call this a transition. I mean, the President’s goal is to get to net zero by 2050. And that suggests that there will, of course, still be a need for fossil fuels.
So we — but we also know that everything we’re experiencing in terms of these extreme weather events —
we spent $150 billion as a nation last year cleaning up after these extreme weather events that are all fueled by climate change. So we have to do both.
Q And then, I guess if you’re putting yourselves in the shoes of some of these refiners or some of these oil producers, what guarantee can the administration give them as you’re asking them to increase production but more regulation as you pursue that transition isn’t coming down the pipe for them as you’re asking them to (inaudible)?
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Well, we’re asking them to increase supply. We’re not ask — telling them we’re going to increase regulation on them. We are hopeful that they will see the opportunity of investing as well in this clean energy future. In fact, a number of these refineries have transitioned to biofuels, and that’s good.
We want to see them be part of this clean energy future as well. So we want to build more energy. We want to build clean energy. And we know that, ultimately, that’s where our security will lie.
Q Thank you, Secretary.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Jacqui and then Kristen.
Q Secretary Granholm, you and the President have framed this war in Ukraine as the primary driver of the spikes in energy costs that’s the largest contributor to overall inflation. But the Fed chairman was on the Hill today, testified. He was asked a question: “Is the war the primary driver of inflation?” And his answer was “No.” How do you square that? Is he wrong?
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: I — I didn’t hear what he said on that, but I think most people acknowledge that the price of fuel is a big driver of inflation. And, in fact, they’ve put large percentages on it.
And so we know that the war in Ukraine, having driven up the price of fuel because it crimps supply — t’s a little supply-and-demand question — we’ve got to make up for the million barrels per day that have lost. We will have a demand problem when China opens up after COVID. There will be additional upward pressure on supply. This is why we need — not just in the U.S. — but we need globally more supply brought on board.
And so —
Q His — his full quote was, “No, inflation was high before, certainly before the war in Ukraine broke out.”
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Well, I think most would say that the price of fuel has exacerbated inflation.
Q And is there any concern that this gas tax holiday will increase demand and then, thereby, increase inflation? Some economists and analysts have been raising that.
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Yeah, I understand that. And I also know that this President is focused on costs for real people as well. And this cost of gas is the most tangible, most real for people at the pump. So he wants to do everything. He understands the importance of it. He’s very concerned about inflation, obviously; it’s a top priority. And he’s also concerned about this price at the pump. And he’s going to do what he can to resolve that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Kristen.
Q Secretary Granholm, thank you for being here. Senator Manchin said he’s not yet a yes on this. Steny Hoyer said he’s not sure that they have the votes to pass this. Why is the President proposing something that doesn’t have the support of Democrats yet — enough support to pass?
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Well, I mean, this is — this is a conversation, right? So that conversation is ongoing. And I know that those Democrats are also concerned about the price their constituents are paying at the pump, and Republicans are as well. I mean, that is — that is the issue.
So, hopefully — you know, in the past, Republicans have introduced a gas tax holiday, and there’s no time that’s more acute than right now.
Q What is the strategy to get it passed, though? The President, obviously, making this announcement ahead of the July 4th holiday. What is he going to do to get those Democrats and Republicans on board to pass this? And how does he respond to the criticism from some Republicans that this is a stunt because he doesn’t have the votes?
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Well, he’s going to be having these conversations with Democrats and Republicans. I would hope that both sides of the aisle are listening to their constituents about getting relief. I think the citizens will be the loudest voice, you know, in the room.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead. You had a question?
Q Yes. Two sort of decision-making questions. One, why 90 days? Is there a belief that, after 90 days, that the market will stabilize?
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: It’s the summer — it’s the summer driving season — is how they were framing this, how — the focus was on.
Q And what would be the proposal to Congress to backfill the Highway Trust Fund?
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Yeah, I mean–
Q And do you have an estimate for how much the trust fund would be hit?
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Ten billion. About $10 billion. And yeah, the — clearly, we do not want to see the Highway Trust Fund hurt, so the President is asking for Congress to backfill. That could be — obviously, we’ve seen a $1.6 trillion reduction in the deficit. There are ways to be able to identify the funds to be able to do this, and he’s asking that the trust fund be repaid.
Q But is the administration putting forward any proposals to —
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: He’s having those conversations with Congress.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Cleve, did you have — do you still have — you had a (inaudible).
Q Yeah, sure. I do have a question. I do wonder if there is a particular point where the President decides to invoke these emergency powers he’s talking about. Is it if gas reaches a certain level? If it — is it if you don’t hear the right things from the administrators?
I also wonder about the tone and the timbre of the conversations tomorrow. The President has been very splenetic, critical of them. I wonder what your conversation will be like.
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Yeah. I mean, honestly, we’re going in, in good faith, asking them this question about what can be done, what — what would it take, what do you need to open up additional refining capacity.
Obviously, they’re making huge amounts of profits. It’s not about funding, but perhaps there is something that they need — some additional help with identifying a supply chain issue. We — I just don’t know. So we’ll see. We’ll have that — this is an honest, earnest conversation tomorrow asking how can we be partners in providing relief for people at the pump.
Q And are there any hard lines where emergency powers are invoked with gas prices, with answers, with whatever?
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: We have not — we have not drawn any lines in the sand at this moment.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Two more. Nancy and then Nandita.
Q Thank you so much, Secretary Granholm, for being here. Just following up on Kristen’s question, what do you say to lawmakers who are already calling this federal gas tax holiday a “gimmick” and saying, “Best-case scenario, it’ll save drivers about 20 bucks a month”?
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Well, it — there’s no doubt this is a modest — if it were just the federal gas tax — right? — 18 cents is — you know, is a modest — you know, a modest amount. But if you combine it with if the states — you know, not all states would do it, but certain states might be willing to, some already have — you combine it with that.
If the oil and gas industry is willing to reduce prices to the extent that historically they have when the price per barrel has come down.
So, for example, right now, the price per barrel has dropped about $10 since last week, so it’s about 110, roughly, dollars per barrel. Normally, when you see that kind of a drop — $10 per barrel — the rule of thumb is that you see a 25-cent drop in the price at the pump.
So we’re going to be asking why that hasn’t happened yet and when that will happen. So there could be some much more significant help.
And I will say that the Energy Information Administration has projected that by the end of the third quarter, because the oil and gas industry has increased and is intending on continuing to increase supply — that’s not refining but supply at the wellhead — that we will see gas prices at about $4.37, they are projecting, at the end of the third quarter.
Now, all caveats aside, because who knows what could happen on a — in the global economy if — you know, the EU, China, et cetera. All of that, is — is still very front of mind. So projected forecasts are always subject to all of those caveats. But we’re hopeful that we will start to see this come down. And this is one step in that direction.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Nandita. Last question.
Q Thank you. Thanks, Karine. Just a quick question on refining capacity, especially when we’re talking about, sort of, asking refiners to produce more. That sort of takes time. Right, Secretary? I mean, it’s more sort of —
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Yeah.
Q — it appears to be more of a medium-term solution. What — according to you, how much of an impact do you think that will have immediately on gas prices?
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Well, this is the question to ask them. I mean, you know, obviously, building a new refinery takes — is a much longer strategy. Right? But they have — there have been refineries that have been announced to be closed, there are some that have recently closed. What is the capacity? These are the questions. What is the capacity to bring some of that — and what is their capacity to bring more capacity online? These are the questions that we’ll be asking.
Q And a quick one on — you know, some of the industry participants who are expected at this meeting tomorrow with you are expected to talk about, sort of, urging the administration not to ban fuel exports, and that is something that we’re reporting from sources.
I’m just sort of wondering what your response to that would be if such a demand is made. And, you know, are you considering such a decision in the first place?
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Yeah, I will say this, that, you know, there have been an awful lot of solutions that the President has been considering over — over the — since the war began, since these prices started to jump up. And — and I don’t think any — anyone is taking anything off the table. He’s not proposing that at this moment. But he’s not willing to take tools off the table.
But we do want to listen, for sure. And there may be consequences that have to be considered on doing something like that, that would have adverse impacts on everyday citizens. And we don’t want that either.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you, Secretary.
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Great. Thank you. Appreciate it.
Q Thank you.
SECRETARY GRANHOLM: Thanks, everybody.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, I just have one thing at the top, and we’ll take your questions. One hundred seventy-five million Americans hold at least one credit card. And in 2020, credit card companies charge customers $12 billion in penalties, including billions in late fees.
Today, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced that it is taking a step — a first step to review excessively high late fees, including how these fees are affected by inflation and how they contribute to credit card companies’ profits.
Americans deserve transparency and a little more breathing room in their family budgets. This is just one of the ways the Biden administration is going after excessive fees that companies use to hide the true cost of products.
From airline tickets to high-speed Internet service, agencies are taking action to make prices clearer upfront so that consumers can save money by choosing the best deals for them.
And with that, Josh.
Q Thanks. Two subject areas. First, we heard the President today say what he would like to see Congress, states, and companies do on oil production. What is the case that he is making to Saudi Arabia and the Emirates for increased production ahead of his visit? Should we expect the rest of the world to kick in more supplies than they have committed to already?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, as you know, the President is going to be going to the Middle East next month, and there’s going to be an array of subjects that he will — they will be discussing.
He’s going there at the — for the GCC+3. Saudi — Saudi Arabia is clearly hosting that. The Middle East is an important part of the region. They’re going to be talking about, yes, energy security, but a whole host of other things, including a way to make peace, national security.
I don’t have a — I don’t have any — we don’t have a specific list of details of what is going to be discussed next month.
And, as you know, Saudi Arabia is the chair of OPEC+, and we welcome the — the steps that they have taken as it — as it relates to oil production.
But again, they are the chair of that. Again, energy security will be part of the conversation, but not the only thing. And — and we’ll see what happens next month.
Q And then, secondly, on the President’s upcoming travel, does he plan to meet with Turkish president Erdoğan with regard to Finland and Sweden being in NATO?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have a — I don’t — we don’t have anything to preview for you as far as any bilats that may occur at NATO or G7 in whole — as a whole. He’s — clearly, he’s leaving on the 25th, returning on the 30th, to Europe. As — when we do, we always share those bilats with all of you.
As it — as it relates to Ukraine and NATO, they were having — I’m sorry, not Ukraine — Finland, they were having a — a trilateral conversation with — on — on their NATO application. And so we leave it to them to speak to where that progress has been.
Q Thanks, Karine. A couple more questions on — on gas. One is a housekeeping. Can you say which companies are attending the meeting tomorrow? Is it all seven that were on the initial letter?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, my goodness. I should have — I should have called on you. She — she was right here —
Q I know.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — to answer that question.
Q I was raising my hand —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It is — it is — I do not have a —
Q — repeatedly. (Laughter.)
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I know. I’m trying to get to everybody. Trying to give everybody love here. It’s not easy. So many — so many of you to cover. (Laughs.)
But I would — I would suspect it’s the, as you stated, the folks who received the letter. I don’t have a list in front of me, clearly. And — but I would suspect those are the seven CEOs that will be joining tomorrow.
Q Okay. And then I want to circle back on — on a question that you were asked yesterday. You said that this was the first step, but — the President expressed this — this sentiment again today on — on really laying down the hammer on these big oil companies. And so why is he not in the room tomorrow to express this message himself?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, the President talked about this, as you said, as you just stated, earlier today. The Secretary of Energy —
Senator [Secretary] Granholm, who was just standing before you — is going to have those conversation. And — and what we want to see is a solution, come up with ideas. There will be representatives from the White House who will be in the room as well, so that will be happening.
And, you know, the hope is that there are ideas that come out of this, there’s a res- — some resolution, some solutions that come out of this. And so we have to wait and see how — how that goes. But that is the first step.
The second step, as I said yesterday, is hopefully to come up with some ideas in how to move forward and how to — how to bring up their capacity, because that’s what we’re talking about here. Because we have the crude oil, the crude oil is there, as the — as the Secretary was just saying. We just need the oil refineries to refine that oil so that it could help bring down gas ta- — gas prices.
Q And, finally, what does it say to — about the prospect of the White House winning congressional support on this idea that just minutes after the President finished speaking on this, Nancy Pelosi sent out a very lukewarm statement about its prospects on Capitol Hill, saying, “We will see where the consensus” goes. That is hardly a vote of approval from her.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, we have immense respect for the Speaker. I think she also said that she was going to bring this to her caucus, which is also important to note.
Look, this is just the beginning of the process. The President talked about this about an hour and a half ago. And we will continue to have conversations with Congress — congressional members and their staff.
Look, just to step back for a second and really talk about what — how this President sees this: He sees this as an opportunity — a straightforward, simple way to deal with the pain that the — the American people is dealing with, giving them some relief at the pump. That’s what we’re talking about.
It’s straightforward. It’s simple. The President would like Congress to — to act.
We’re talking about, you know, 18 cents per gallon, which is going to go a long way.
If you look at the average of states, that’s 30 cents. Just looking at those two things, that’s almost 50 cents. That’s going to go a long way. For three months. That’s it.
Q That’s an “if.”
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Three months. That’s a “if,” but —
Q This is all predicated on “if.”
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, absolutely. But we’re going to continue to work hard and to — to get the — the American public some relief. We’re talking about three months — 90 days — during one of the busiest driving times in our country for American people, American families. That’s how this President sees this.
I’m going to call on folks I — go ahead, Steve.
Q Thanks, Karine. The Sec- —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: If we have time, I’ll come — if we have time, I’ll come back. I just want to make sure I —
Q The Secretary laid out the questions that she wants to ask the oil executives tomorrow. Is there a working theory that the administration currently has as to why the oil companies have not already increased their refining capacity?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You know, I — there’s no working theory on our part. What I can say is — let me just — just lay out some facts here.
So, as of this morning, crude oil prices have dropped by nearly 15 percent from two weeks ago. About prices at the pump have — have barely — but prices at the pump have barely budged.
The last time the price of crude oil was $110 a barrel, the price of gas was $4.60 a gallon. Today, it’s about 35 cents higher. That difference is a result of companies’ record-high profit margins for refini- — refining.
Oil refiners’ margins have tripled since the beginning of the year. In just the first three months of the year, the biggest oil companies made $35 billion — four times — four times what they made in the first quarter of last year.
So they would have to speak to that themselves as to why they are not bringing up their capacity. Because again, the crude oil is there. We need them to refine that oil so that we could bring up the capacity and so, therefore, the gas prices could come down. That’s what we’re asking them to do.
The conversation will happen tomorrow with Secretary Granholm. There will be White House officials as well in the room with her until they’ll have that conversation. And hopefully, we can get to some solutions and some ideas.
Q The Secretary spoke about “creativity.” Do you have any sense of what she meant by that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, we’ll — she’ll — we’ll hear — we’ll hear from — from them directly. She’ll hear from them directly about what ideas that they might have to — to get this — to get their capacity up.
Q This topic of a tax break has been out there for weeks, if not months. And you’re just talking now about starting the conversation. Why is it just starting now?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, look, this is something — you know, the President talked about this even on Sunday. So some of you who were — who were there with him.
And, you know, for him, he wanted to make sure he looked at the data. He wanted to make sure he spoke to his economic team. And it was just an important, important piece of it.
But I do want to take — take a step back. If we look at the last several months, if we look at what has happened during — during the time that Putin amassed his forces along the border of Ukraine, we have seen gas prices rise by $2.00 per gallon. That is just the facts. That is what we have seen. And the President has taken historic action.
So, yes, it’s been a couple of — it’s been a couple of months, but he has taken action. He has not just been sitting around, waiting to make a decision on this. He’s taken action on the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, where we’re seeing 1 million barrels of oil per day. That is happening.
The ethanol 15, which is our homegrown biofuels, which he made — took action on that. And we’re hoping to see — what we’re going to see is, you know, a few thousand gas stations in the — in middle America, across the country. Hopefully, that has — has an impact on that as well. And the 240 million barrels of oil that he rallied his partners across the globe to do.
So, those are actions that he’s taken. And so, this is just another solution. I want to make sure that we’re not looking at gas tax as the only solution. It is one of an array of actions that the President is doing.
Q I totally understand that. But — but, again, why is it just happening now?
And secondly, what was the threshold for him where he said, “I want to push for this now”?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Again, he spoke to this. He said he’s going to look at the data, he’s going to talk to his economic team. He did that.
The — the thing about this is: He took actions, as I mentioned, and when — with the gas tax — holiday gas tax — the way that he sees it is it’s a direct, straightforward way to deal with — to deal with something that the American public is — is really not feeling any relief right now at the pump.
And we’re also in the season — we’re in the summer season, as well, where a lot of people are traveling. And so, these next three months are critical for many families, American families. So, the timing is — also makes sense as well, when you think about where we are with — with families traveling in the next three months during the summer time.
Q A quick follow-up to that, and then something else. What — you keep referencing the data that the President wanted to look at.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q What, specifically, data did he look at that that got him to a “yes”?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I think he talks to his econom- — his economic team. Right? They present him with information that he needs with any other decision that he makes that — that deals with a — with a decision like this — you know, a decision that he has to make that’s going to really have a direct effect. I mean, this happens with any decision that he makes.
But, look, here’s the thing. The most important thing here is: The way that this President sees this — on top of all of the actions that he’s already taken, which I just listed out — he sees this as straightforward. He sees this as simple. He sees this as something that can have a direct effect on — on the pocketbooks of many Americans across the country. This is one of the ways that he feels that we can have an effect — a real effect.
And this is something that the American public wants to see, right? This is something that they’ve been asking for — how — in ways that we can lower the cost at the pump.
Q Is the administration still considering gas rebate cards for Americans also? And how much would be on those cards? And is the chip shortage complicating that decision?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have any more on that to share besides, you know, the gas tax holiday.
Look, the President is looking at many options. I just don’t have any more on the gas card
Q Thank you. I have two foreign policy questions. First, on Afghanistan: The White House released a statement saying that the President will assist options of helping the Afghani people after the earthquake, whether it’s via USAID or federal government partners. Can you tell us what kind of help the United States will offer? And second, how can you make sure that this help will not fall into Taliban hands?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: They’re all good questions. Let me just say the United States is deeply saddened to see the devastating earthquake that prim- — premilinary [sic] reports indicate — preliminary reports indicate took the lives of at least 1,000 people in Afghanistan. President Biden is monitoring developments as — and as — has directed USAID and other federal government partners to assess U.S. response options to help those most affected.
The United States is the single-largest donor of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, and our humanitarian partners are already delivering medi- — medical care and shelter supplies on the ground.
We are committed to continuing our support for the needs of the Afghan people as we stand with them during and in the aftermath of this terrible tragedy.
Again, I just wanted to give a little bit of what we have committed: more than $720 million since August 2021, directly to humanitarian partners. So, this aid does — does not go to the Taliban. The aid goes directly to the Afghan people via — via humanitarian partners on the ground.
Q And another question on Russia. The Russian government spokeswoman said that the United States is destroying — what she called destroying bilateral relationship that already are in lamented state. And she’s accusing the U.S. of not allowing Russian planes to pick up Russian diplomats and their families from here, and insinuating that they might do the same.
So, how do you assess her response? Is it — do you think that actually the Russians have thought of the United States relations at — now at stake? Do you think that diplomatic relationships are in jeopardy? Or is it just the usual statement (inaudible)?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You’re talking about the bilateral relationship with the U.S. and Russia?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, we have to be very clear here what we’re seeing currently. This is — Russia invaded a sovereign country. They — they started this war. We’ve been talking about the gas tax. We’ve been talking about inflation, just in general — global inflation and the challenges. A lot of that, when you look at gas and you look at food, that’s because of Russia’s war.
You know, this is something that if — if President Putin wanted to stop this and wanted to end this war, he could. You know, and — and to go — he attacks — he attacked another country’s democracy.
So the President has been very clear: He is going to make sure that we defend democracies, that we defend freedoms. And he rallied — helped to rally the West — the West and NATO to make sure that it was a forceful response to what Russia is doing.
And so, you know, this is — the question that — that the spokesperson is asking or the statement that she’s making, it really goes back to them. What are they doing for their bilateral relationship?
This is something that the Pres- — President Putin has caused, not us.
Go ahead, Jenny.
Q Hey, thanks, Karine. Two quick ones; one on insulin.
Senators Shaheen and Collins introduced a bill today. I’m wondering if you’re involved in that, supporting it? Or are you negotiating something separate on reducing the price of insulin, which the President talks about a lot, with Manchin and Senator Schumer as part of a broader reconciliation package?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, on that particular piece of legislation, I would just have to go back to the Office — our Office of Leg Affairs to get more information to provide to you. So I just want to make sure I get that right.
As you stated, the President has talked about insulin, the importance of bringing down the price and cost for families. We’ve had — he’s had several events where he has talked about those — that specifically.
Right now, we have to — probably after this, I’ll go and check with them and get specifics on that piece of legislation for you.
Q And then one more on your favorite topic: the China tariffs, which just seems to have become, like, a stale debate inside the White House because it’s —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Stale debate? (Laughs.)
Q Well, you know, I think there’s two sides. And one argues that it helps inflation, and one argues that it doesn’t. Can you give us any sense of, like, where the President is coming down on this? Because you guys are deliberating your decisions for a long time. And, you know, if it does help inflation, if he does support that view, then why not just do it?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, no decision has been made, as you just stated. They’ve been discussed — he’s been discussing — the President has been discussing this with his team. I — we just don’t have anything to share at this time.
Q No timing?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No timeline. A decision hasn’t been made. It’s being discussed with the team.
Go ahead, Zolan.
Q Thank you. I had a question again about Afghanistan, but on the humanitarian parole program. CBS had some reporting a couple of days ago that showed that for those Afghans that are applying for parole remotely from still Afghanistan, that 90 percent had been denied — 90 percent of some 5,000 applicants at this point.
Is — in the White House’s view, is that — that program, which President Biden pointed to as really the main relief program for those that aided military officials — is that, that program, working as it should be?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, we are aware of the report. We are reviewing it at this time. So we’re not yet public- — we’re not ready to speak about it publicly. But I do want to give a little perspective as you’re asking about how this works.
So the report outlines our efforts under the humanitarian parole process, which is separate and distinct from the refugee process, as you — as you know, Zolan; I know you’ve followed this closely. Humanitarian parole has strict — strict criteria that requires applicants’ protection needs to be so urgent that they are unable to wait a while — an application — to receive protection via U.S. refugee admissions and process — in process.
The refugee process is typically how such applicants relocate to the United States. So that’s one piece.
But also, it requires applicants to leave Afghanistan before completing the mandatory screening and vetting. The vast majority of Afghans applying are still in Afghanistan. So that’s kind of the confusion there.
So, we are proud to have welcomed nearly 80,000 Afghans to this country through the Operation Allies Welcome, which is an unprecedented historic effort, and many — and more than any other nation. We continue to welcome additional Afghan allies and vulnerable Afghans and will do so over the coming weeks and months.
The State Department is also actively assisting eligible individuals to leave Afghanistan. In fact, we recently set up a processing hub in Qatar to process eligible Afghans for special immigrant or refugee status.
But we’re going to review the report. I can’t speak to that right now. But I just wanted to make sure we gave you a — laid it out.
Q The report — as in, what was in CBS, that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yes, we’re reviewing. We’re reviewing it.
Q Okay, because that was — that was based off data released by USCIS as well. It was not leaked or —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Again, I’m just telling you that we’re reviewing it, and then we’ll — we’ll get back to you on that.
Q One more refugee question, too. The administration committed to admitting 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. There were USCIS officials that recently released data that showed the U.S. admitting Ukrainian — not just refugees, but also asylum seekers at the border.
My question is: Does that 100,000 — commitment for 100,000 include those who crossed the border?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Let me get information for you on that. I — so I can get an update on that particular program. And we can get some breakdown and get back to you on that piece.
Q A follow-up?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Hold on. Let me see.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — I already called on you. Go ahead.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Karen.
Q Thanks, Karine —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I can’t call on you and not call on them. (Laughter.)
Q Got to try.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Laughs.) I feel like it’s a classroom.
Q Two questions on COVID. First, if you could just give us a status of where things stand with talks with Congress on funding and what the administration’s planning is right now for funding for testing in the fall after the funds are diverted from that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, you know — as you know, the virus has not been waiting for Congress to act. And we have been clear that a lack of funding would force us to make hard decisions, including last week, by having to pull funds from essential response needs, like testing capacity for some of our urgent needs for vaccines.
When we notified Congress of pulling funds early in June, we made clear to Congress the continued need for additional funding, the consequences we have long warned of real — are real.
Our fight for COVID funding is active and regular and robust because COVID, as we all know, is not over and we risk even more severe and lethal consequences for American people if we do not secure this funding, even if members of Congress may think otherwise.
And so, that was your — the first part of your question. And what was the second part of your question?
Q The second part was, last week, during a hearing, one of the Senate Republicans who has been supportive of approving the funding request, Mitt Romney, was expressing frustration at the request now after that funding had been diverted.
He had said, “…for the administration to say they could not purchase these things and then, after several months, divert some funds and then purchase them is unacceptable and makes our ability to work together and have confidence in what we’re being told very much shaken to the core.”
I mean, is this process now sort of spoiled because of the way the administration had done that with that funding? Is there any prospects for this funding to actually get through Congress now?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, just to respond to what — what Mitt Romney said: Look, we’ve — if you go back to January, we’ve been working with members of Congress, whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican, on funding needs for the COVID response.
We have been very active in doing that since then. We’ve hosted countless briefings, conference calls, shared more than a dozen funding tables all in a bipartisan basis. And these engagements, it’s — has had full of count of every dollar that has been spent and allocated on the COVID medical response and a full accounting of the entire American Rescue Plan, which goes well beyond the direct medical needs.
So we have been above and beyond. We have been transparent. We have broken down how we have been spending this — the funds. We’ve been doing this for several months.
And so, the bottom line is: Every day that Congress fails to act puts further beh- — puts us further behind on us — on — behind other countries in securing that COVID response funding and the resources that we need.
And so, again, we have been transparent. We have laid things out. We have — we have had a 385-page document that I know Jen shared — had came out and shared it with all of you.
And so, this is incredibly important. We need Congress to act. We need Congress to move, and we need Congress to act.
Q Thank you. Lawmakers serving on the January 6th Committee are getting security details. We’ve had Supreme Court Justices get threats. Is President Biden going to do anything to address these growing threats of violence against public figures? And have there been any security changes here at the White House, given that we’re seeing threats on the rise?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I can’t speak to any security changes — changes here. You guys are here every day, so you see for yourselves.
Look, the President has — you know, has spoken against the violence that we have seen, that — and the threats, the intimidation that we have seen against Supreme Court Justices.
He has been very clear: It is inappropriate. It’s not — it is not — it is not part of our — it should not be part of our political discourse. And he has condemned that from — you know, from — from him — from himself.
And also, he just recently signed the security funding that’s going to be for the Supreme Court justice. He signed that this past Thursday.
Q Karine, on the Juul news, could you — a follow-up. Do you trust the Juul news — that it’s going to be banned by the FDA?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Say that one more time.
Q I’m sorry. There are reports today that the FDA is preparing to ban Juul — which is an extremely popular e-cigarette that’s used by millions of people, primarily young adults — to stop smoking cancer-causing combustible cigarettes. Is that true? And if so, is the President involved in that decision making?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I would refer you to the FDA. I don’t have anything for you on that at this time.
Q Two questions — one foreign, one domestic. I’ll just follow up on the violence we’re talking about. As we get closer to the Supreme Court decision on Roe, there’s a group that has been distributing flyers around Washington, D.C., but also across the country and also online, called “Jane’s Revenge” that declares there will be a night of rage — looting, burning, rioting — if Roe is overturned. What message does this White House have in advance of that ruling as we get closer to it? And —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, again, fi- — violence and destruction of property have no place in our country under any circumstance, and the President denounces this action. Actions like this are completely unacceptable, regardless of our — of our politics. So we have denounced that, and we will continue to denounce any violence or threats.
Q And the foreign question: With respect to the President’s trip to Israel, he is potentially scheduled to meet virtually with the Indian leader, Modi. Does the White House have any comment on the Indian authorities demolishing the homes of people who have been protesting the derogatory comments made by Indian authorities against the Prophet Muhammad? They’ve been having their homes destroyed by bulldozers in recent weeks. Is there any chance that the President will be pressing the Indian leader to protect Muslim minorities in India?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I don’t want to get ahead of what the — the President’s schedule. We will have more in the upcoming days on exactly what the President is going to be doing on that trip. I don’t want to speak to — clearly, the President — we have said this — he’s a straight shooter. He has no problem talking to leaders about humanitarian rights, about freedoms, about the importance of democracy. This is something that the President has done in the past. I can’t speak to, specifically, what’s going to be on the agenda and what their conversation is going to be.
Q But, generally, just the fact that people’s homes are being demolished right now.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I — I understand that. I’m just saying the President has no — he is a straight shooter and speaks — and speaks very frankly. And when it comes to humanitarian rights, has no problem having those direct conversations — leader-leader conversations.
Q A follow-up?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m going to go to — go ahead, Niels. Niels.
Q Yes. Thank — thank you. Has there been — as we’re looking at the student loan piece, that there was a number of senators and House members with — over at the AFL-CIO this morning, led by Chuck Schumer, who were renewing their push for the President to cancel student debt. I know that there needs to be a decision on that by the end of August. What is the status of that decision? And what is the status of — specifically, of the legal review that we know has been underway in terms of what exactly the President’s authorities may be?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So the administ- — we’re still continuing — the President, the administration — to assess options of cancellation. We have not made a decision yet.
As the President said just recently, I think on Sunday, he expects to make a decision on that soon. I do want to add: No one — no one has been required to pay a single dime of student loans since the President took office, which is 41 million borrowers; provided $20 billion in targeted debt relief to 1.3 million borrowers. We just don’t have a decision that’s been made, and he actually spoke to this most recently.
Q And more broadly, on questions where there are these sort of legal questions about what the executive authority is versus when you need to go to Congress on the gas tax: Obviously, I think there’s a general assessment, but to suspend a tax, you need Congress involved.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q But sort of how much is going on here behind the scenes to try and review options for when you need to go look to Congress for something versus something that can be done at the executive level to help bring down costs and deal with inflation and help people with their pocketbooks?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, look, when it comes to the gas tax holiday, the way that the President sees this: It’s a simple, straightforward way to do deal with an issue that’s really hurting families at the gas pump. If you look at the next three months — where it is going to be a very busy three months of families going on vacation, driving, maybe across the country, whatever families do — it is important that we really have a — really have an action and have a reaction to what families are feeling.
And so this is the way that the President — when he made the decision, he understood it’s a simple, straightforward way. It is 18 cents at the federal level. It is — average out 30 cents in states. If you — if oil refineries and companies do their part, that’s almost a dollar per gallon.
So this is — this is real for many people. This is very real for everyday Americans and incredibly important.
So the way that the President sees this: He wants to make sure that we do something that the American people are going to feel directly.
I think I’m being given — given the — I’ll take one more.
Q In the back?
Q A follow on India, please.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: One more. Okay. Oh, my. Go ahead, sir.
Q Yeah. You just mentioned that dollar that people would feel that’s real. It’s three months, though. Then what do you tell people who are all of a sudden going to be paying a dollar more in three months? Why — why build in volatility like that when people are already very anxious about this economy?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, as the Secretary said, we’re going to take this step by step. We are — I think — like I said, the next three months, the next 90 days is when American families — people are going to be driving the most. And so this is an important — we saw this as an important time to do this now, or in this timeframe.
And so we’re going to — you know, the President feels that this is going to have a direct effect. We’ll — we’ll talk more about what the next steps are. The President is not afraid to use his executive authority. We have said that. He said all — all things are on the table to make sure that we lower cost for American families.
So he’s going to continue to look at other options. But again, this is not the only solution. This is not the only solution. This is one way to deal with high prices — gas prices in particular. We talked about the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. We talked about the ethanol 15.
All of these things are important actions that the President has taken. But for now, with the gas tax holiday, we encourage — we ask Congress to act.
4:02 P.M. EDT