Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, January 26, 2022
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:36 P.M. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Good afternoon. Okay, I have a couple of items for all of you at the top.
As we mentioned, later today — in our guidance last night, I should say — later today, the President will sign an executive order to make sexual harassment an offense in the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
This historic addition to the UCMJ honors — honors the memory of Army Specialist Vanessa Guillén, whose experience with severe sexual harassment was followed by a brutal murder, catalyzing national attention to the scourge of sexual violence in our military and helping advance bipartisan military justice reform in the 2022 NDAA.
This executive order also delivers on a key recommendation from the Independent Review Commission to strengthen the military justice response in prosecuting cases of domestic violence and fully implements changes to the UCMJ to criminalize the wrongful broadcast or distribution of intimate visual images.
The Biden-Harris administration thanks Congress for its bipartisan commitment to pass monumental reforms to our military justice system and codify key recommendations from the IRC — the Independent Review Commission.
We also look forward to continuing to work with Congress to support the safety and dignity of our service members.
I also wanted to note that today we hit a major milestone in our global effort to be the arsenal of vaccines: 400 million doses shipped to 112 countries for free, with no strings attached. To put America’s leadership into perspective, we have shipped four times more free doses to the world than any other country.
And this is on top of our efforts to expand manufacturing at home and abroad, our close partnerships with manufacturers to provide their vaccines to hard-hit areas, and our work to turn vaccines into vaccinations around the globe.
The last item for you: Today, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau launched a new initiative to save American families billions of dollars a year in unexpected and hidden fees charged by banks and financial companies.
Right now, as I’m sure many of you know, banks and credit card companies lock you in with low rates, only to charge you high fees after the fact. If you’ve ever used a credit card, which I’m sure everybody in this room has, you are familiar with this; you’re familiar with all those extra fees — balance transfer fees, late fees, and more. They add up. Collectively, the CFPB estimates that these junk fees drain tens of billions of dollars per year from American families.
Consumers are already starting to feel the benefits of the CFPB’s work in this space. After the CFPB published a report on bank overdraft fees in December, many large banks — Bank of America, Capital One, and Wells Fargo — announced they would reduce or eliminate some of these fees. That’s an important start, but not enough, which is why the CFPB is interested in hearing about everyday Americans’ experiences with unexpected fees.
This latest initiative by the CFPB was previewed at this week’s Competition Council meeting and is just one of the ways we are — one of the steps we are taking to go after excessive fees that companies use to hide the true cost of products. From airline tickets to high-speed Internet services, agencies are planning — Internet service fees, I should say — agencies are planning actions over the coming months that will make prices clearer up front so that consumers can save money by choosing the best deals for them.
Let me say one other thing. I know there is a lot of news out there today, so let me reiterate something that you heard the President say, and I also said over Twitter: “It’s always been the decision of any Supreme Court Justice if and when they decide to retire, how they want to announce it, and that remains the case today.” So, we’re not going to have additional details. You are always welcome to ask any questions you’d like at any time. And there’s a lot of news out there, but I just wanted to say that at the top.
Josh, go ahead.
Q Thanks, Jen. Two subjects. So let’s say hypothetically — (laughter) — a Supreme Court justice was to retire and announce it on his or her own terms. Does President Biden plan to honor his pledge to nominate a Black woman to the Court?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’ve commented on this previously. The President has stated and reiterated his commitment to nominating a Black woman to the Supreme Court and certainly stands by that.
For today, again, I’m just not going to be able to say anything about any specifics until, of course, Justice Breyer makes any announcement, should he decide to make an announcement.
Q Okay. Secondly, on Ukraine: Is the White House publicizing the troop buildups in the Russian disinfo efforts in hopes of deterring Moscow? And does the White House think that strategy is working? And are you prepared to release more details about what you say Russia’s been doing?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, on the last one, as we — as we have. And I think you have all experienced that in here, also at the State Department and Defense Department briefings, and certainly from briefings delivered by national security officials — senior national security officials as well.
I will say, Josh, that we are much more cognizant of the Russian disinformation machine than we were in 2014. And many of you covered, of course, the invasion of Ukraine in 2014. And we have made a decision — a strategic decision — to call out disinformation when we see it.
And all across the federal government, various agencies are working together to fight disinformation and correct it.
In part, we know — the part — that’s because we know that Russia’s disinformation operation is highly developed. We are more wiser — we are wiser, the world is wiser than they were in 2021, and Russia has a boundless capacity to misrepresent truth and what it’s doing.
And some of that tactic from their end is intended to set the predicate for them invading. And we need to be very clear with the global community and the U.S. public what they’re trying to do and why. So, there’s a lot of efforts underway to do exactly that.
In terms of whether it will have a deterrent effect, I think our biggest effort — in that regard is laying out the clear potential consequences. But it is also important — and we think strategically important — to be very clear that what they’re trying to convey publicly out there, a lot of that is misinformation, and people need to understand and digest that.
Q Jen, what preparations is the White House engaged in broadly in the case of a Supreme Court vacancy?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to detail any of that from here.
Q Not about — unrelated to this, you can’t detail what — like, doesn’t every White House like to get ahead of this in case of a sudden passing — in the case of Ruth Bader Ginsburg? None of that you can share?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to detail internal planning from here. No.
Q Okay. Then let me ask you a couple other questions. Is there any scenario in which the President would select his Vice President, Kamala Harris, for the Supreme Court?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I’m not going to speak to any considerations, preparations, lists. And as we’ve stated earlier, and you heard the President say, it is — there’s a long history of Supreme Court justices determining when they may retire, if they retire, and announcing that. And we’re going to — that remains the case today.
Q Clearly, you are more wiser than to take those questions then. So, I will ask you about a different topic, and that’s Vladimir Putin — the President saying, “yes,” that he would very much consider personally sanctioning him in the case of a Russian invasion. Can you give us a sense — because Russia has dismissed, or sort of pooh-poohed that idea — what would sanctioning Vladimir Putin —
MS. PSAKI: Does Russia have a role in determining our sanctions?
Q No, but they’ve said that it would have no impact. So, what impact would sanctioning Vladimir Putin have on him, and what would that look like?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what’s important to note, broadly, is that what we’ve also said is that it will be far beyond — any sanctions package would be far beyond what was done in 2014, and that includes impacting business and economic interests of President Putin and the leadership of the Russian government.
I would also note that, while it has been our policy that we are not going to take options off the table from here — and we haven’t — we also haven’t been detailed what isn’t in an initial package. And that doesn’t mean that everything out there that’s being talked about is in an initial package.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thank you. When you were asked about the Vice President possibly being selected as a Supreme Court nominee, you said you’re “not going to speak to any considerations.” Does that mean she is being considered?
MS. PSAKI: Again, Peter, I’m not going to speak to the reports of a Supreme Court justice retirement that hasn’t been announced.
Q So, theoretically, would someone who served —
MS. PSAKI: Theoretically? I do like that you preface it. I appreciate that. (Laughter.)
Q Would — just wondering, hypothetically and theoretically, would someone who was an attorney general of a large state and who served with many keys Senate votes be an attractive candidate to the President for an open Supreme Court seat?
MS. PSAKI: I see what you did there, Peter. (Laughter.) But the President has every intention, as he said before, of running for reelection, and for running for reelection with Vice President Harris on the ticket as his partner.
But, again, I will just reiterate that I have nothing more to offer in terms of specifics or information on the reports this morning.
MS. PSAKI: Would you have another question for me?
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. I know there’s other things on your mind —
MS. PSAKI: — on your list over there.
Q Now that you guys have submitted the written responses to Russia’s demands, they are saying, “If we do not receive a constructive answer from the West on our security demands, Moscow will take appropriate measures.” Is that a threat — “appropriate measures”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that the aggressor here — as maybe you’re echoing in some ways or raising — is Russia. Russia has tens of thousands of troops at the border. They have the ability also to make the decision to de-escalate, to bring troops back from the border, to participate in good faith in a diplomatic conversation. And that would certainly be our preference.
So, them making threats — I think Secretary Blinken had a very good quote — or it made me laugh — that he gave a couple of days ago where he said it was like the fox threatening to attack the hens in the henhouse because they were feeling threatened by the hens.
But our objective is to give them paths and to take part in a diplomatic conversation in good faith.
Q And as the Russians talk about “appropriate measures,” if one of those winds up being a Russian cyberattack, like DHS is warning about, would you guys consider that an act of war?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Peter, we have talked many times before — first of all, there’s no — no information we have at this point about any imminent threat against the U.S. homeland. We are always prepared for cyber threats from a range of sources. And we have a range of tools at our disposal to use and react — in reaction, and the President reserves the right to do that. But I’m not going to get into a hypothetical.
Q And then, on COVID origins: You guys are talking a lot about sanctions for Russia if they dare to invade Ukraine. What about sanctions for China — at any point — for misleading the world about the early days of the global pandemic?
MS. PSAKI: We have used sanctions as a tool as it relates to our concerns about the behavior of a range of countries, including officials in China. But I have nothing to preview for you at this point.
Q Is it possible down the line though that they — that sanctions would be considered — or some other form of punishment — for their actions in the earliest days of the pandemic?
MS. PSAKI: Well, you know, we strongly believe, and the President has been clear and directly clear, about the importance of them being transparent and providing data and information related to the origins of the pandemic. But I don’t have anything to predict for you in terms of additional actions.
Q So then, my last one would be: The President said for months that he had not spoken directly to Xi about the COVID origins investigation. Now he says that he did talk to Xi about it, but nobody else was there. If the President had that conversation, did it work and is Xi now playing ball?
MS. PSAKI: What are you getting at there? Are you suggesting the President wasn’t being honest about his own conversation with Xi?
Q No, but the story did change. For months he was asked about it and he said that he had not directly asked him about the COVID origins investigation.
MS. PSAKI: We don’t share every detail of every diplomatic conversation. You know that. The President answered a direct question just a week ago — or I think it was a week ago, yes? — and provided that information.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thank you. When was the last time the President talked to Justice Breyer? Have they had any communication today?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details of their communications.
Q I wonder if you can clear this up because there seems to be some disagreement among some legal scholars: Is it your understanding and the understanding of this administration that the Vice President can be the tie-breaking vote to confirm a nominee to the Court?
MS. PSAKI: I would have to check on the specifics of that.
Q And just one more. On the President’s Supreme Court Commission, I believe they finished their report. They turned it —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — in last month. Has the President had a chance to review this? Might we hear from him on any decision or input that he’s had?
MS. PSAKI: He has received the report. I don’t have any update on his analysis of it at this point in time.
Q Taking you somewhere completely different.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Let’s go there.
Q On the China bill —
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q — which the President, last night in his statement, said he’s, “heartened” by the bipartisan work on the package — which it was in the Senate, not so much in the House. Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman McCaul said it was “absolutely not” bipartisan, “will likely garner no Republican support.”
Are you guys involved in — and if so — in getting this to a bipartisan package eventually? And what are your priorities in that 3,000-page bill, since it is pretty long? And is your timeline the State of the Union? What are you looking at here?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, that it did receive extensive bipartisan support in the Senate vote — right? — in the Senate version; that our objective is — certainly remains ensuring that this passes as soon as possible and the President can sign it as soon as possible. I don’t have a new deadline or timeline for you.
We believe that bipartisan, compe- — competitiveness legislation will help us tackle supply chain issues and inflation head on, and will make investments in American manufacturing and our economic strength so we can outcompete China.
And we’re certainly advocating that and have been advocating that and deeply involved in conversations with the House and Senate.
And our objective is certainly that — to have legislation pass that can take a range of steps: strengthening R&D, boosting manufacturing, with important and imperative funding for chips — manufacturing chips so we can make sure we bring down the cost of cars, as we know which is leading to one third of the inflationary pressure out there in the country.
We want this legislation to help businesses and communities in every corner of the country outcompete their global competitors.
In terms of specifics, as you noted, it’s quite a long bill. We’re certainly involved and engaged in it with officials from throughout the administration, but I’m not going to detail specifics of what we’re for and against in it either.
Is there any possibility that should this play out, you know, sort of similar to the infrastructure bill — take a long time, House Republicans will not get on board — that you, given the pressure of the chips shortage on inflation, that you just take out the strip — strip out the chips portion, pass that individually, and then negotiate on the rest? Do you see that —
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to make a prediction of that at this point. I mean, as I understand it, the status of the legislative process is that both the House and Senate have indicated that it will go to conference and they’ll work out disagreements that they have over components of the legislation.
Also, the Senate version had 68 votes. And certainly, we believe that increasing and improving America’s competitiveness and investing in R&D — research and development — and making sure we’re more competitive in communities across the country is not a partisan idea.
So we are hopeful about that process moving forward quickly, and the President would certainly like to sign it as soon as possible.
Q And then one more on this bill, too, that is a difference between the House and the Senate version. The House version published last night had this outbound investment screening mechanism that wasn’t part of the Senate bill. It would potentially block investments in countries like China.
Does the White House support this provision and will you fight that that’s going to make it in the final package that’s reaching the President’s desk?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into specifics of the bill. I would tell you that we are in daily contact, from the White House, with House and Senate leadership and committees. And we’re discussing the path forward, but we’re not going to negotiate the pieces from here.
Q Is there anything you can tell us on the work the executive branch is doing on exactly that same thing? Because Jake Sullivan has been talking about a potential mechanism like this being interesting to you guys and potentially working on this, but we haven’t heard about it in a while.
MS. PSAKI: I can see if there’s any additional update from the national security team, of course. And certainly, I know he’s talked about that in the past and it remains a priority.
I have to give a — give it a shot myself as well.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q In this hypothetical alternative reality where a retirement — a vacancy were to open up, could you say who within the White House would be, sort of, leading the charge on the selection and vetting process?
MS. PSAKI: As the President said, I’m sure that if and when there is an announcement by Justice Breyer, there will be more to be said. And we’ll have more conversation in here, I’m sure he’ll have more to say, but I’m not going to have anything more for you at this point.
Q Just switching gears. On the energy front, the administration said, on Tuesday, it’s in talks with major energy-producing countries and companies around the world over a potential diversion of supplies to Europe if Russia invades Ukraine. Have any of the energy companies or countries contacted by the administration told you that they do indeed have an ability to divert extra supplies to Europe?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s been part of the conversation, but I don’t have any announcements to make on their behalf. But certainly, that’s been our objective is to ensure that we are prepared for the possibility of the supply — the natural gas supply — which, as you know, is very much a regional issue, and there’d be a big regional impact, less so here in the United States — as well as the global oil supply and ensuring there’s enough supply in the market.
Q And what do you see is the risk of the contingency planning failing to secure Europe’s energy supplies, since our reporting suggests so far that the industry has little or no capacity to do this?
MS. PSAKI: There are — no question there are logistical challenges, especially moving natural gas. We know that. That’s part of our discussion with a lot of these companies and countries.
But again, these conversations are ongoing and we don’t intend to fail on them.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q A number of lawmakers sent a letter to the White House today, including Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren, asking the White House to release the memo that the Education Department put together looking at the President’s legal authority to cancel student loan debt.
I wondered: Do have a response to that? And, you know, why hasn’t this memo been released?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say: No one has paid or been required to pay a single dime of federal student loans since the President took office over a year ago.
And I’ll also add that our country is seeing one of the strongest economic recoveries in history. And the pause announced in December gives some breathing room, for several more months, to borrowers who are still coping with the pandemic.
The Education Department will continue working to ensure a smooth transition to repayment.
I would reiterate also that the President supports Congress, members of the — who sent the letter and others — sending him a bill that would provide $10,000 in debt relief. And he continues to look into what debt relief actions can be taken administratively.
I’d also note that in terms of loans that have been forgiven, since the President took office — beyond the pause on repayment — a total of $15 billion benefiting more than 675,000 student-loan borrowers as part of — been part of the forgiveness; borrower defense to repayment at $1.5 billion; total and permanent disability repayments — loans — forgiveness, I should say — $7.8 billion; ITT Tech students, $1.3 billion; and public service loan forgiveness, $5 billion.
So, we have been doing a broad range of forgiveness and also have had this pause in place, meaning that no one who has student loans has been required to pay since the President took office.
Q But does the White House plan to release the memo? Like does the White House plan to tell the public whether it thinks it has the authority to cancel $10,000 in debt on its own?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as I said, again, we’re still looking at administrative options. But Congress can also send the President a bill that would provide $10,000 in debt relief, and he’d be happy to sign that bill.
Q On the trip on Friday to Pittsburgh, can you talk a little bit more about why the President is taking this trip? Is this about the President getting out more? I know that he talked about that last week —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — that he wanted to get out and, you know, be face to face with people. Is that what this is about?
MS. PSAKI: That’s part of it. I think if the President could spend every day out on the road, he might do that. There are, of course, a lot of responsibilities as president that don’t make that possible. So that is certainly part of that. And I expect you’ll see him out on the road more in the coming weeks as well.
It’s also an opportunity for him to speak about his economic agenda and what steps he’s taking to make people’s lives better, to lower costs for Americans, to rebuild their communities, to make us more competitive, but certainly to interact with people in communities — those who disagree with him and those who agree with him as well.
Q And just quickly, on the executive order that’s being signed later on today, is that order coming out because the NDAA did not do enough to address the issue of sexual harassment? Like why is this order needed?
MS. PSAKI: It was a key recommendation from the Independent Review Commission, so it’s delivering on the Independent Review Commission’s recommendation, which is something that was supported — these recommendations and delivering on them — by the leadership of the Department of Justice. So, it’s an effort to implement that.
Q I wanted to start with a question on behalf of a colleague from another radio network who wants to know if you have any update on the launch of Build Back Better World, which was supposed to, I guess, be implemented earlier this year? And would Daleep Singh’s upcoming trip to Africa include scouting projects for Build Back Better World?
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to check with our national security team. We have talked about Build Back Better World and been working a lot behind the scenes on efforts to launch that around the world. And the President has talked about it on all — virtually all of his foreign trips to date. But I can see — get more specifics about Daleep’s trip.
Q And on the meeting the President had today with the CEO’s about Build Back Better here: Is the strategy now — with sort of the President talking about breaking it up in chunks potentially — is the plan to bring a new proposal to Democrats in Congress? What does that strategy look like as it relates to, kind of, the meeting that he had today? Is he trying to get a sense of what the priorities would be from these private sector CEOs?
MS. PSAKI: The meeting was not a negotiation; it was not the basis of a negotiation. Those discussions will happen between the 50 members of the Senate who need to support a package — a big chunk — to move it forward.
This was an opportunity to hear from business leaders. And I think you heard a number of them speak during the open press component of the meeting. And I know a number of them will be doing interviews — maybe with some of you — afterwards as well.
What I think was interesting and compelling to the President when we were talking about this last night was that they’re all experiencing different challenges as they look ahead to their, many of them, very successful businesses.
Some of that is ensuring they can have enough women at a senior level in the workforce. And lowering the cost of childcare and making that affordable is a big issue that the CEO of Etsy has talked about, for example, quite a bit.
The CEO of Cummins has talked a lot about climate change — or the climate agenda and the importance of investing in that moving forward, because those are industries that will grow and have a huge opportunity for our manufacturing industries here in the United States.
Those are all components that are part of the President’s Build Back Better agenda, but he really wanted to hear from them on their industries; of the best way to grow their businesses, the middle class; and how components will certainly impact them.
Q So is that a message the President plans to take to Democrats? Is he going to present something smaller — a big chunk — sort of a more narrow piece of legislation and proposal that perhaps can get unstuck in the Senate?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I don’t have any predictions of the legislative process. This was not a meeting about the legislative process.
The President and members — senior members of our legislative team and senior White House officials are in constant contact with a range of senators, committee members, staffers. And, really, the point we’re at now is determining what components there can be 50 votes for, and that will hopefully include a big, big chunk of what the President has proposed. But that’s what the status of that is.
But this was not a meeting to discuss legislative strategy or how to navigate conversations with different senators.
Q Yeah, Jen, I have a couple more on BBB. Ron Klain said last week that you’d like to see BBB legislation approved as quickly as possible. Some Democrats — Representative Jayapal — are saying that March 1st, the State of the Union, is kind of the deadline for action. Does the White House see it that way, in terms of the timeframe? Do you see the (inaudible) —
MS. PSAKI: No, we have not set a deadline. No.
Q And the — five Democratic senators wrote the President and the Vice President urging them to keep the Child Tax Credit expansion in BBB. But the President seemed pretty clear in his press conference he wasn’t sure that that could happen. Is he reviewing that? Did he change his mind?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President proposed the Child Tax Credit extension. He very much wants to see the Child Tax Credit extended, and you’ve all heard him talk about how proud he is of the expanded Child Tax Credit because of the impact it had on cutting childhood poverty by 40 percent, for giving people some extra breathing room. And there’s some recent studies and evidence that the Child Tax Credit helps working families in the developments and opportunities for all children. So, he has long been an advocate.
Again, this is the legislative process — right? — and there needs to be 50 votes. We need every Democrat to support a package moving forward. I don’t have anything to preview or predict for you on that front. That is going to be up to them to determine what that looks like.
Q And just one more. Should you have a Supreme Court nomination that has to make its way through the Senate, is there any concern that that could crowd out priorities like Build Back Better and make it that much harder to get something done here?
MS. PSAKI: Not — without getting into any specifics of what may be on the docket, we have to walk and chew gum at the same time here in the White House, and that includes navigating, you know, the buildup of military troops on the border of Ukraine; that includes trying to get an omnibus bill passed and get our competition bill passed; that includes continuing to be the arsenal of vaccines to the world. And we are entirely capable of doing more than one thing at once.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Thank you, Jen. I have two questions — two different topics.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q The first one on Ukraine —
MS. PSAKI: Is it about the Supreme Court?
Q No, actually.
MS. PSAKI: Oh.
Q No, I’m not part of this — this bunch.
The President, earlier this week, said he talked to all NATO leaders. Canada has offered a $100 million loan to Ukraine and is considering — to be announced this afternoon — further support, assistance. What type of contribution does the President think Canada could make to this crisis — to solve the crisis?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we wel- — we welcome the support of Canada and any country that is contributing to the needs of Ukraine, that is defending the territorial integrity of Ukraine and defending what we feel is a fundamental value that we share with Canada and a number of countries around the world, which is the fact that no country should be able to invade and take the territory of another country.
So, we’re not going to assess what they should do or not do. Every country has different capacities, capabilities, legal authorities. We recognize that, but we certainly welcome their support for Ukraine.
Q So the President hasn’t asked for arm shipments or troop deployments?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into any more details of conversations. We just recognize that every country has different capabilities, capacities, authorities, and a range of contributions, and doing it in a coordinated way, we think, is very effective.
Q I’d like to talk about — I have a question about Haiti.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q So Canada hosted an international meeting last week. Prime Minister Trudeau has called for “immediate action” to fix the security situation in Haiti. You know that in the next two weeks, it would have been the end of President Jovenel Moïse’s term if he hadn’t been assassinated. What’s the U.S. plan, particularly in terms of security, knowing that there’s no newly elected president to swear in on February 7th?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first reference — and I think you’re probably aware of this — but last week, Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman participated in a high-level ministerial, hosted by Canada, to discuss sustainable, inclusive solutions to the challenges faced by Haiti and Haitians.
The ministerial was an opportunity for global leaders or high-level officials to reaffirm the continued international commitment to support Haiti as it confronts growing insecurity, works to restore its democratic institutions, and revives the country’s economic development.
We’re also — continue to work with Haitian authorities and international partners to provide additional systems from the United States to the Haitian National Police to strengthen law enforcement, build up anti-gang operations, maintain peace and stability. And we have also — in response to heightened humanitarian needs in Haiti, USAID has provided more than $92 million in assistance in fiscal year 2021.
So we are working on a range of channels, including in close coordination with other leaders, about how we can help prop up humanitarian needs, address their security needs, and act in a coordinated way as Haiti looks to their future.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Go ahead.
Q Just a quick question on inflation. Many people believe that government spending is a big factor in the current inflation levels. Can you speak to concerns that spending plans that come out of Build Back Better aren’t paid for and — so could mean higher deficits and more inflation in the future?
MS. PSAKI: Aren’t paid for?
MS. PSAKI: Build Back Better is paid for.
Q Can —
MS. PSAKI: Entirely.
Q Okay. Can you speak to the concerns that are coming in that it’s not actually —
MS. PSAKI: Who are the concerns from, though? But who’s saying it’s not paid for? Because there have been a range of economists saying it’s entirely paid for, and that has been a priority for the President.
It has also been concluded by a number of Nobel laureates and experts — from a range of economic experts on the outside that it will not contribute to inflation.
So those are the global experts that we would point to. But there may be others suggesting something else, but I don’t know who those people are.
Q So if those bills do pass, it will not raise taxes?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it — something being entirely paid for means that part of that is the highest-income Americans, highest — that companies would be asked to pay a little bit more. That has been part of the proposal and part of reforming the tax system to make it more fair.
Q So they’re also not expected to contribute to future inflation then?
MS. PSAKI: The Build Back Better Bill?
MS. PSAKI: Again, it’s fully paid for. We would point to Nobel laureates and a range of global economists who have conveyed that it would not contribute to inflationary pressures.
Q Thanks, Jen. I wanted to ask about the impact that President Biden’s experience in foreign policy has on the — his handling of the current situation with Russia and Ukraine.
Obviously, he served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He was Vice President when Russia invaded Crimea. He oversaw the end of the war in Afghanistan last year. Can you just talk about how those various experiences have informed his decision-making and his thinking on the situation currently with Russia and Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. So, one of the lessons learned we talked about — I talked about a little bit earlier in response to Josh’s question, which is the ability and the boundless capacity of Russia to misrepresent the truth and spread misinformation through a range of channels.
I mean, they have a range of state-run media channels that are not just prevalent in Russia, but around Eastern Europe, across Europe. You can even find them in the United States. But even beyond that, this is the capacity that we’ve seen them utilize in 2014 and 2016, and many times in between.
So one of the lessons that we have learned is certainly — and the President has learned — is certainly that it’s important to call out this disinformation and to make clear to the American public, to the global community what they’re trying to do here, and the fact that it is not accurate. They’re trying to set the predicate for war.
We’ve done that through a number of means. Last week, the administration announced sanctions on four, of course, Ukrainian individuals. We also had a briefing, launched a website, released a factsheet to educate the public on the Russia disinformation ecosystem. The FBI and DHS are coordinated with the intelligence community, as well as state and local partners, to ensure a common understanding of Russia disinformation and influence activities related to the situation in Ukraine. So, that’s one part.
I’d also say that for the President — and this has been a priority for him since he came into office — building up our alliances and partnerships with the global community, ensuring that close coordination is front and center and is a priority is something that he has learned through his time in foreign policy — as the former Chair of the of the Foreign Relations Committee; of course, as Vice President — is imperative.
And we believe that’s proving to be very effective at this point in time. We’ve had more than a hundred — probably way more than that at this point — engagements with NATO partners, allies around the world. And we have a coordinated and strong, you know, approach to how we’re approaching the buildup of troops on the border of Ukraine.
So, there are many lessons, but I would say those are two of the biggest ones.
Q Right. And can I also ask about the China competitiveness bill —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — that was mentioned earlier? Does the White House want to see Congress finish work on that before Build Back Better, or is there, like, a priority there in terms of
getting that done?
MS. PSAKI: The President would like to sign it as soon as possible. But beyond that, I’m not going to get into an order of events.
Q Thank you, Jen. I have a few questions. The first on the Supreme Court.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Does the President believe that the current makeup of the Court accurately reflects America’s demographics?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say the President, as you know, asked for a — put together a commission that could review — that is a bi- — a commission made of Democrats and Republicans of a range of legal views that could take a look at everything from the makeup of the Court, to how they select cases, to the length of service, to the size of the Court.
That’s a report, as Mary asked about earlier, that he certainly has. I don’t have an update on his review of that at this point in time.
I will — I will note though, for you — to go directly to your question — he has nominated a historic number of judges who are people of color. A historic — I don’t know if it’s a historic number of women, but a majority of the judges he has nominated are women. That speaks to his desire and his interest in having courts around the country that look like America and that represent the experiences of America, including public defenders and others. So, that is the evidence of his commitment to that I would point to.
Q And is it the expectation of the President and the White House that whomever he would nominate for any hypothetical vacancy that that would be an appointment that Democrats could unify behind?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s always the hope. If there were — if that — if that opportunity presents itself.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Thanks, Jen. The pace of Americans who are getting booster shots has dropped by more than 50 percent since December. And public health experts are saying that one cause that might be behind that is confusion over the CDC’s distinction between being “fully vaccinated” and being “up to date on vaccinations.”
Folks with whom I’ve spoken say that initially describing the two-dose regimen for mRNA vaccines may have been premature. Given what we now know about variants and breakthrough cases, was it a mistake to say that people were “fully vaccinated” back last year before we knew what the virus was going to do next?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that — it was not a decision made by the White House. It was a decision made by our public health experts at the CDC who make those definitions or determine those definitions.
They’ve also said that the term “fully vaccinated” refers to your primary series. So that means being up to date on your vaccines, which is true if you have kids. I have kids. Making sure they’re up to date — when they go to the doctor, you ask them if they need any shots. That is true of when you need a booster shot; you needed a set number of months, depending on what vaccine you got, past your second dose. That’s something we think American people are more than capable of keeping up to date on.
It is also true that we think more people need to get boosters; that boosters are very effective in protecting against serious illness, hospitalization; and that that is one of the most effective steps that can be taken. Seventy percent of eligible seniors have gotten their boosters, but certainly it needs to be higher in other age groups.
Q And I do have one on the news of the day. I’m sorry. I got to try.
MS. PSAKI: Go — don’t need to be sorry. It’s okay. You’re doing your job.
Q So, if Justice Breyer were to retire, one of the last cases that he’ll face as a member of the Supreme Court, obviously, will be Dobbs v. Jackson, which court watchers are saying is likely to weaken or potentially overturn Roe v. Wade. If his potentially final opinion ends up being a dissent in the Dobbs case, what is the administration’s plan to protect abortion access as best it can, beyond trying to pass a congressional remedy, which I think — you know, unless you guys have 10 extra senators lying around — might not be able to beat a filibuster?
MS. PSAKI: Well, without speaking to the future of the Supreme Court, what I will reiterate is that the President has been an advocate for codifying Roe. That’s something he certainly thinks and hopes that Congress will act on.
We’ve also taken steps and have announced steps, in recent days even, to — for HHS to support — to amp up their support for providers across the country. And that’s something we will continue to look for ways to do.
But I’m not going to make a prediction of the outcome.
Q Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Thanks everyone.
Q The German chancellor timing — do you guys have that?
MS. PSAKI: Not yet. Hopefully we’ll have it soon.
Q Thank you, Jen.
Q Jen, any response to the Fed signaling it will raise rates in mid-March?
MS. PSAKI: I would just say that the President — obviously, the Fed is independent, and we stand by that, as does the President; that the — Chairman Powell has indicated his plans to recalibrate in the past, and the President spoke last week to his support for that.
Thank you, everyone.
3:15 P.M. EST