Addressing the world some 15 hours after Russian began a full invasion of Ukraine, President Biden faced a White House press corps on Thursday afternoon that, after he ducked their questions on Tuesday, chose to do its job and call out the likelihood the latest round of economic sanctions would do all but nothing to deter Putin, the likely economic pain Americans will feel, and what has he done vis-à-vis Russia’s alliance with China.
After the Associated Press’s Chris Megerian led off by wondering whether he’s had any contact with Putin or his government, The Wall Street Journal’s Tarini Parti wanted to know why the U.S. hasn’t secured an axing of Russia from the international banking system (known as SWIFT).
Biden conceded it’s “not the position that the rest of Europe wishes to take,” but maintained Thursday’s sanctions “are of equal consequence, maybe more consequence.”
The first truly probing questions came next via ABC’s Cecilia Vega on what will actually “stop” Putin, “how and when” this crisis “end[s],” and whether the U.S. believes Putin threatened the west on Wednesday night with nuclear war.
Biden claimed he had “no idea what he’s threatening” and then promptly undid his administration’s entire messaging on the war by stating “no one expected the sanctions to prevent anything from happening.” Instead, he argued, the sanctions will wear Russia down.
Following Vega, it was Doocy Time as the Fox News correspondent first touched on the economic impact in the U.S.:
[M]arkets are down and gas prices are up. I know you always stress the difference between Wall Street and main street, but everybody seems to be in for some economic pain. How economically painful is it going to get for people in this country?
Biden replied “markets will respond,” but it’s “highly unlikely” to have a long-lasting impact “as long as” the U.S. and its allies “stay resolved in imposing the sanctions.”
Doocy continued to press, asking whether Biden “underestimate[d] Putin” and if he’s “confident” these sanctions will “be as devastating as Russian missiles and bullets and tanks.” In both cases, Biden answered in the affirmative.
CNN’s Kaitlan Collins took a page from Doocy’s playbook in asking short but devastating questions about what he believes will actually end Putin’s tyranny and how can anyone expect Putin to “change his mindset” (click “expand”):
COLLINS: If sanctions cannot stop President Putin, what penalty can?
BIDEN: I didn't say sanctions couldn’t stop him.
COLLINS: You've been talking about the threat of these sanctions for several weeks now.
BIDEN: Yes, but the threat of the sanctions and imposing the sanctions and seeing the effect of the sanctions are two different things. They're two different things and we’re now going to — he's going to begin to see the effect of the sanctions.
COLLINS: And what will that do? How will that change his mindset here given that he’s attacking —
BIDEN: Cause it will —
COLLINS: — Ukraine as we speak.
BIDEN: — so weaken his country that he’ll have to make a very, very difficult choice of whether to continue to move toward being a second-rate power or, in fact, respond.
COLLINS: You said in recent weeks that big nations cannot bluff when it comes to something like this. You recently said that the idea of personally sanctioning President Putin is on the table. Is that a step that you’re prepared to take and, if not —
BIDEN: It's not a bluff. It's on the table.
COLLINS: — sanctioning President Putin?
NBC’s Peter Alexander came next and didn’t mince words:
[Y]ou detailed some severe and swift new sanctions today and said that the impact it will have over time, but given the full scale invasion, given that you're not pursuing disconnecting Russia from what’s called SWIFT — the international banking system — or other sanctions at your disposal, respectfully, sir, what more are you waiting for?
Biden didn’t bite, insisting he’s leveled “profound sanctions” and unlike “anything that’s ever been done” with “two-thirds of the world joining us.”
In one of the more interesting moments, Biden declined to comment after Reuters’s Steve Holland brought up China:
HOLLAND: Are you urging China to help isolate Russia? Are you urging China to help isolate Russia?
BIDEN: I'm not prepared to comment on that at the moment.
After multiple attempts from White House staff to have him leave the podium, Biden pulled away after questions from The Washington Post’s Tyler Pager and Press Trust of India’s Lalit Jha (click “expand”):
PAGER: How concerned are you that Putin wants to go beyond Ukraine into other countries and the U.S. will have to get involved, if he moves into NATO countries?
BIDEN: Well, if he did move into NATO countries, we will be involved. We will be involved. The only thing that I'm convinced of, if we don't stop now, he'll be emboldened. If we don't move against him now with these significant sanctions, he will be emboldened. Look, you know, every — well, anyway.
JHA: Sir, India is a major defense partner of the United States. Is India with — fully with you on the issue on Ukraine and Russia?
BIDEN: Does the Defense Department of the United States?
JHA: India is one of your major defense partners. Is India fully in sync with the United States on — on Russia?
BIDEN: We're going to be — we’re in consultation with — with India today. We haven't resolved that completely.
To see the relevant transcript from February 24, click here.