James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:41 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Okay, on my first day back, I am delivering Jared Bernstein to all of you, who we are thrilled to have to give some brief remarks on the economic news today and answer some questions. And then we will do a briefing as long as we can before the President departs.
With that, I will turn it over to Jared.
MR. BERNSTEIN: Thank you so much, Jen. Today’s jobs report provides yet another indicator that, as the President said this morning, quote, “our economy has gone from being on the mend to being on the move.”
In the first conversation I had with the President when he was a candidate, he explained his view that we faced a dual health and economic crisis, and that we could not attack one without attacking both.
That intervention became the American Rescue Plan. And the historically strong labor market we see in today’s jobs report is a testament to not just the President’s correct diagnosis and prescription, but his insistence that the plan be quickly and efficiently implemented to get COVID and economic relief — shots in arms and checks in pockets — into the system.
Today we learned that we’ve got an unemployment rate of 3.6 percent, a tick above its pre-pandemic rate of 3.5. We’ve got an historically unprent- — unprecedented run, with data back to 1939, of 11 months in a row with job gains north of 400,000, yielding an also unprecedented 7.9 million jobs since President Biden took office.
We have — in one of the most welcome trends we at CEA are seeing in the job market — increased labor force participation, and we have strong wage growth, particularly for middle- and lower-paid workers.
Getting under the hood of the report a bit: As you know, at the Council of Economic Advisers, we’re careful to not over-interpret one month of data, and therefore we always cite the three-month average, which in this case is the first quarter of this year.
With the upward revisions in today’s report, the average monthly gain over the quarter is 562,000 jobs per month.
Now, to provide some context for that growth pace, last month marked 23 months since employment hit its pandemic low. At a comparable point in the last expansion, the three-month av- — three-month average of job growth was 229,000, making the current jobs recovery more than twice as fast.
The Black unemployment rate ticked down by four tenths to 6.2 percent, just two tenths above its pre-pandemic rate.
As noted, one of the most important indicators in the current job market is labor force participation. Rising participation rates will facilitate a closer alignment of strong labor demand with labor supply, helping to support working families and to boost our real economic output.
Last month, labor force participation ticked up by a tenth overall and by a significant three tenths for the closely watched “prime-age workers” category, which focuses on workers age 25 to 54. It doesn’t mean that people who are over 54 are no longer “prime,” but that’s a different discussion. (Laughter.)
The prime-age participation rate in March was just a half a point below its pre-pandemic rate, and it is up by an historically strong 1.4 percentage points since President Biden took office.
In other words, last month’s bump was not a monthly blip but is part of an ongoing trend. It’s a trend — and also, in a trend that’s highly consistent with President Biden’s “Make It In America” Agenda, factory employment was up 38,000 last month and 473,000 since the President took office.
In other words, we are in the midst of a — of the fastest business cycle recovery of manufacturing employment in more than 50 years.
Now, as you know, we economists are always looking for policy lessons that we can apply to our work as we deal with a complex, ever-changing, and ever-challenging global economy.
In that regard, today’s job — jobs market provides a clear lesson. American employers and workers have taken every headwind thrown at them and just kept humming along. As the President said today, quote, “The headwinds…of Delta, Omicron, and even [the] war in Europe” have not been able to derail our job — our record jobs recovery. End quote.
It is unequivocally clear that one of the most important policies behind that result is the American Rescue Plan.
Of course, our work is not done, and we are actively addressing challenges faced by American households, especially uncomfortably high inflation.
As you know, just yesterday the President authorized the release of 1 million barrels per day for the next six months from our Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the largest release from our national reserves in history. And this morning, countries across the world agreed to release tens of millions of additional barrels into the market.
This work is, of course, highly complementary to our near-term work in speeding the pace at which goods move from ship-to-shelf and to our longer-term agenda, including the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s projects — projects to strengthen and increase the resiliency of our infrastructure and supply chains.
That, in turn, is complemented by the Bipartisan Innovation Act, which is geared towards making more in America, strengthening supply chains, and breaking up bottlenecks like semiconductor chips that are raising prices for consumers.
Our legislative agenda is also focused on reducing some of the toughest strains on family budgets, including prescription drugs, the costs of child and elder care, healthcare premiums, the cost of housing, and education.
But the fact that all of this work is occurring against the backdrop of one of the tightest, most welcoming labor markets on record is both a testament to the President’s policy agenda and to the unceasing energy and efforts of the American people.
Thank you, and we’ll move to your questions.
MS. PSAKI: All right. Go ahead.
Q Thank you. Thanks for doing this. The President said today that he thinks part of the impact of this will be easing the supply chain crunches. With more people in jobs, it’ll smooth out that — I wondered your view on that.
And in particular, we’re seeing new COVID lockdowns in China. That has, in the past, sort of fueled supply chain crises down the line. What is your view on that right now, as we sit here?
MR. BERNSTEIN: Let me start with — let me start with the first part of your question. And I’m glad you asked it because it’s one of the more important, kind of, under-the-hood indicators in today’s jobs report that should really get the attention of anyone who’s follos- — following the very issues you’ve raised.
One of the things that needs to happen in this labor market is to the very strong labor demand that in my comments, as you say, as you — as you heard, I associated with some of the very important benefits of the Rescue Plan. Very strong labor demand needs to better align with labor supply.
The way that happens is through increased labor force participation rates. Now, as I mentioned, in March, that ticked up by a tenth of a percent, but I also cited what we call the prime-age rate, which is for workers 25 to 54. Labor economists like to look at that prime-age rate because it takes out teenagers and retirees and looks at — at folks who are most connected, typically, to the job market. That ticked up three tenths of a percent in March.
But more importantly — and again, we have long stressed that especially when you’re looking at these monthly numbers, you’ve got to look to the trend. That indicator is up by 1.4 points since this President took office. And if you look at the pace at which the labor force participation rate is increasing, it is faster in this recovery than any of the past four or five recoveries.
So that kind of development better aligns the very strong labor demand with labor supply in ways that will ease some of the — some of the price pressures, as the President referenced today.
You asked about — oh, China.
Q Whether that can counteract — you know, what is the net effect of China locking down but more Americans being in the workforce on the supply chains in the U.S.?
MR. BERNSTEIN: Sure. So, these — these are precisely the kinds of issues that we have been tracking ever since this pandemic came on the scene. We know that we are still in a — an economy where the pandemic — a global economy where the pandemic is playing a role.
But as I stressed in my comments today — and the President said the same thing. I guess I’m saying the same thing he said, to be more accurate. If you look at, you know, “the headwinds…of Delta, Omicron, and even war in Europe” have not been able to derail our record jobs recovery.
Yes, there’s uncertainty, there are headwinds, and some of those headwinds are amplified by Putin’s unprovoked war in Ukraine. And yet we see, month after month, American employers and American workers shaking off those headwinds, creating record number of jobs and creating such an important economic backdrop for American households to get by in this challenging period.
MS. PSAKI: Mike?
Q Hey, Jared. So, what — the chart that you showed that was up there before with the huge bar for Biden, at what point does it become more fair to stop measuring the growth in jobs and the growth in the economy against the recovery from the depths of the pandemic, and begin to be more fair to measure President Biden’s progress at increasing from the pre-pandemic levels?
MR. BERNSTEIN: Well, I think that it’s already fair to do that in the following sense: If you look at some of the indicators, whether it’s jobs themselves, payroll employment — yeah, you’re right, this is not showing the time series; this is just the bar.
But if you look at the time series, you will see a “V” when things tanked and they came back pretty quickly. Same thing with labor force participation.
And I’m going to put this — I had a great slide; we weren’t able to get it together here. I’m going to put it on my twitter thread later — @EconJared46 — (laughter) — later today.
MS. PSAKI: Give him a follow. (Laughter.)
MR. BERNSTEIN: And it will show the same thing, which is you see a “V,” and then you see a period of an ongoing trend start out and continue — and, in the case of labor force participation for prime-age workers, even accelerate a bit.
And I think that we’re 23 in — 23 months into a recovery now. I think it is completely legitimate to cite these numbers in terms of an ongoing trend, very much fueled by a virtuous cycle of strong consumers creating demand for goods and services, which in turn leads to strong labor demand month after month, driving the kind of numbers we saw today.
Q But just one quick follow-up. I mean, we’re still not back to pre-pandemic employment levels, correct?
MR. BERNSTEIN: Yeah.
Q And most of the indications, most of the measurements that Americans might want to — want you to say — to measure President Biden against is not like, “Okay, well, we dug ourselves out of the hole, but how much further are we getting above where we would have been had the pandemic not started?”
MR. BERNSTEIN: Yeah.
Q And when do you guys start having to measure against that and measure against, like, “Okay, we’re now 500,000, a million jobs above where — you know, where we were before the terrible pandemic”?
MR. BERNSTEIN: So, there are a variety of ways to look at that. I would commend you to some work recently by Moody’s, which looks at counterfactuals — the idea of what might have happened had we not had the Rescue Plan. And in every case, you’re going to see job gains and unemployment declines, you know, well ahead.
I remember the unemployment number — that the unemployment rate might be 2 percentage points higher than it is right now but for the American Rescue Plan.
You’re right that jobs are not back to their pre-pandemic peak yet. They’re still 1.6 million or 1 percent below their pre-pandemic level, but they are climbing back at a rate —
Look, I told you: 1.6 million from — and an average monthly job growth rate of 562,000 per month. So do — do the math. That’s — you know, that’s three months out.
Now, I’m not predecting [sic] — I’m not predicting that’s going to happen. I’m just saying if you extend the trend, that’s what you’d see.
But I think the most important point that we’re talking about here is that there is an ongoing labor market recovery with strong momentum that is delivering really solid job opportunities to American families, and that is such an important backdrop given the challenges that those families face in today’s economy.
MS. PSAKI: Nandita.
Q Thank you. Thanks, Jen. A quick question about the President’s comments this morning: He was talking about the SPR release as a “wartime bridge.” And if you could talk a little bit about what he meant when he said that. Is it a wartime bridge to energy independence, maybe getting companies to ramp up production? Is it a wartime bridge to the Iran deal? Or a wartime bridge to perhaps both?
And secondly, conversations with a lot of oil and gas companies’ CEOs have been ongoing for several weeks now. Have there been sort of any specific commitments that the White House has been able to get from them when it comes to ramping up production?
MR. BERNSTEIN: So, on your first question, I think the way to think about this is it’s kind of a walk-and-chew-gum moment. I think of the bridge that the President was talking about as very much from the perspective of the American consumer who is facing real pressures at the pump.
You know, the last time we did a SPRO release — an SPR release, we saw oil prices fall quite quickly, and prices at the pump followed — were down at least 10 cents a gallon, as I remember, pretty close out of the gate.
Now, if you look just in the last day or two — I looked before I came up here — I saw oil is down about $7 a barrel — something around 7 or 8 percent since the President made his call. And so, when he’s talking about a bridge, he’s talking about helping American consumers with this aggressive, historically large distribution of barrels from the Strategic Reserves.
The idea of the — of the President’s clean energy and sustainable economy and decarbonization agenda is very much alive, very much ongoing, and that’s the chew-gum part.
You know, we have to make sure we help consumers get through this difficult period and help to bring to down the impact as best we can of the Putin price hike.
But at the same time, we simply cannot give any sort of short shrift to our clean energy agenda that is so essential for building not just a sustainable future, but a future of good jobs here in America.
One final point. When the — while the — while the strategic oil release should have the impacts that I and the — earlier, the President said today, that doesn’t mean that the impacts of the conflict in Ukraine are somehow no longer in play. They are still in the picture, and, of course, we will — we will follow them, particularly from the impact of commodity prices — food and energy specifically —
Q Any commitments from the —
MR. BERNSTEIN: — but not exclusively.
Q — any commitments from the companies specifically?
MR. BERNSTEIN: I don’t have a readout on those conversations.
MS. PSAKI: Steve.
Q Jared, a month from today, the student loan payment pause is due to expire, and a number of congressional Democrats sent the President a letter yesterday, saying it was their sense that borrowers right now “are not financially prepared to shoulder another bill” as they deal with the increased price of food and gas and other necessities. First, do you agree with that sentiment? And second, is it your advice to the President that he extend the payment pause?
MR. BERNSTEIN: So, first of all, what did you ask me if I agreed with? Sorry.
Q Just the sentiment that borrowers are not now prepared financially to take on another bill — the student loan payment.
MR. BERNSTEIN: You know, I think that that’s — that’s a very specific question about a very specific group of people.
So, I’ve been talking largely today about the impact of a jobs market that’s generating historical levels of job gains — 7.9 million jobs since this President got here. And, of course, those benefits are occurring to families all across the nation and all across the income scale.
For the group that you’re talking about, many of them do face real challenges making debt payments, and I would say that’s kind of a different conversation than the one we’re having right now.
Now, I believe Ron has leaned into that in ways that I’m not remembering right now, but do you have any comments on that?
MS. PSAKI: Oh, okay. I like this. (Laughter.) So, we’re doing it together.
Q Any comments on Ron joining in?
MS. PSAKI: Clearly, a decision that will need to be made in advance of the timeline. And obviously, we factor the impacts of, you know, economic data on ranges of groups of people, including students.
But I don’t have anything to announce at this point in terms of any decision that will be made in advance of the timeline.
MR. BERNSTEIN: Well said.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, sorry. Kristen, go ahead.
Q Thank you very much. Jared, the President has tapped the Strategic Reserve twice before and —
MR. BERNSTEIN: Mm-hmm.
Q — it still hasn’t had the desired impact. Why is this time going to be different?
MR. BERNSTEIN: So, as I said a moment ago, I think that I would definitely challenge the claim that it hasn’t had the desired impact. We saw both in the last release and in this release the price of oil come down quite quickly. The price of oil, as I checked before I came on here, was down about $7 per barrel.
And I know that the last time — check it out, because these data are actually quite accessible. Look at what happened to the price — the retail price of gasoline after the last release.
Now, there — it’s a global market and there’s a lot of moving parts, but it is a fact that the price of gasoline fell about 10 cents per gallon shortly after it.
Now, if your point is that these releases from the Str- — releases from the SPR don’t have a — you know, don’t have a structural, long-term impact on oil markets, that’s why the President used the metaphor of a bridge today. The idea is to help consumers as they go — is to help consumers as they deal with elevated inflationary pressures more broadly — and specifically with some of the impacts of the Putin price hike on energy costs. And that’s what the — that’s what the release is targeted towards.
Q And just one more very quickly. Yesterday, Kate was briefing and she said that “all options are on the table” as it relates to next potential steps that the President may or may not support. Does the President think that a gas tax holiday is a good idea right now? Is that something that he could get behind? Obviously, it’s gaining a lot of momentum in the states.
MR. BERNSTEIN: Yeah, I’m not going to legislate from here or even get into ongoing policy considerations beyond saying: When we say “all options are on the table,” we mean it. And that option is —
Q Do you think it’s a good policy?
MR. BERNSTEIN: Do I personally think it’s a good policy?
Q Broadly. Yes.
MR. BERNSTEIN: I think it’s a — I think that all options are on the table and all options, including that one, should be on the table.
MS. PSAKI: Great. Jacqui, you got to be the last one.
Q Thank you. Jared, yesterday, you know, Brian talked about the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and buying back oil when prices are cheaper in the future. But, you know, long term, as you just mentioned, the release does not solve the problem of the structural deficit in the market.
It — and, you know, this administration talks about how you’re pushing for domestic producers to ramp up production, but how is that going to happen? Like the fees yesterday that were announced were — are sort of a push to get them to use these, you know, leases, not all of which may produce any energy. But beyond that, the answer I got yesterday was: Long-term, our focus is on, you know, clean energy, and that’s why the President invoked the DPA to try to get, you know, battery parts for electric vehicles.
That was not, you know, the answer that the oil industry was looking for. The — that answer for, you know, what the long-term plan is — shifted away from fossil fuels. So how are they going to ramp up production? And why can you say that prices are going to be cheaper in the future where it doesn’t seem like there any friendlier energy policies?
MR. BERNSTEIN: Well, first of all, let me just be very clear and specific: When I — my comment on retail — the retail costs of gas at the pump, relating to the SPR release, is very much an empirical pattern that we’ve seen time and again where an SPR release occurs, the price of oil comes down, we see that at the pump. And, as I suggested, that’s a — that’s a time-limited function. The President called it a “bridge.” You’re sort of saying, “A bridge to what?”
MR. BERNSTEIN: And I understand that. Well, look, if you believe, as I do, that this is still a global mark- — that energy is still a global market and still a competitive market, what you expect to see is: At a particular price point where oil is, actually, probably above — oil is probably above that price point — and certainly has been even higher in recent weeks — historically, that has led to greater energy production.
And one of the things you hear the President saying in so many words is that we’d like to see that kind of production, that kind of response from the impact of market forces on these — the decisions of these energy companies.
Now, if you don’t see that market response, I think you have to ask yourself why. And that involves the kinds of commentary you’ve heard the President make about industry concentration; about the need for competitiveness; the importance of having an adequate level of competition within our key industries, whether its energy or meatpacking. Because absent — in the presence of excessive concentration and absent adequate competition, price levels can be higher than they otherwise would.
So I very much support the President’s rhetoric and the — the way in which he’s leaned into that problem.
But historical — historically, we expect price signals in the energy market to have the effect that they’ve had, and we will continue to nudge the companies to move in that direction.
Q But when lenders hear, you know, “What’s your long-term solution?” And they —
MR. BERNSTEIN: “When lenders,” you said?
MR. BERNSTEIN: Uh-huh.
Q When — we’re talking about a long-term solution, and then, you know, the administration’s talking about clean energy. It’s — you know, it’s not sending the signal to lenders that this is a safe place for investment; that — you know, there’s a — this administration is saying plainly, “We want to increase domestic production.
MR. BERNSTEIN: Yeah.
Q That’s the sort of language they’re looking for. (Inaudible.)
MR. BERNSTEIN: So I don’t — I don’t really agree with that framing in the following sense. I think by “lenders” — I think — like, I’m thinking of investors. And, you know, investors in the energy sector — if you look at the profitability, if you even look at some of the buybacks and the share prices — investors in that sector have been doing quite well. And that tells you right there that there is a price point wherein it is very possible for an energy producer to be highly successful and to make a lot of money in today’s economy.
And in fact, what we’d like to — I think one of the messages the President has been trying to convey to them — that is on behalf of the American consumers, we’re asking you to respond to those price signals so that people can have an easier time of getting through this tough period.
Now at the same time, we have a medium- and a long-term agenda that is absolutely existentially important to us to move towards a sustainable economy. And we do that in a way that creates great opportunities for both firms, employers, and for workers.
So again, this is not an either-or; it is a both-and. And I see a very — I see very much an economic structure in energy markets where they can both engage in robust production today and plan for a much cleaner energy future.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, Jared, for joining us.
MR. BERNSTEIN: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: You’re always welcome.
MR. BERNSTEIN: Thank you very much, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. We will keep you honest and — as long — as long as you can stay before you need to gather. And we’ll keep you updated. They’re going to track closely from here.
Q Jen, are you leaving for MSNBC?
MS. PSAKI: I just have a couple of quick updates for you from the top.
One is: In the State of the Union, the President called on the — out the ocean shipping carriers who raised their prices by as much as 1,000 percent during the pandemic. These costs pass through to American businesses and families, and contribute to inflation.
And just a month after the President spoke about this at the State of the Union, the Pres- — the Senate yesterday passed overwhelmingly bipartisan legislation to reform the ocean shipping industry and lower costs for American farmers, businesses, and consumers.
And additionally this week, the Department of Justice announced that it successfully stopped a merger between two companies that make the cranes that move shipping containers on and off of ships at our nation’s port — ports. The merger would have harmed American consumers by reducing competition in the supply chain and would have put our global supply chain at risk. And so these steps, obviously, are positive step forward — steps forward.
I also wanted to note that, today, the Department of Homeland — Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services made important announcements in response to the Vice President’s call to action to improve health outcomes.
Beginning today, as many as 720,000 pregnant and postpartum people across the United States could be guaranteed Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program coverage for up — for a full 12 months after pregnancy thanks to the American Rescue Plan.
Finally, for the week ahead — so, next week — sorry, I had one more thing after this. On Monday, the President will deliver remarks on progress made on his administration’s Trucking Action Plan to strengthen our nation’s supply chains.
On Tuesday, he will deliver remarks celebrating the success of the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid in extending affordable health insurance to millions of Americans.
And on Wednesday, the President will address thousands of national, state, and local building trades lend- — leaders from across the country at the North America’s Building Trades Unions’ Legislative Conference.
Finally, as you know, the United States is delivering a significant amount of security assistance to Ukraine every day. Over the past few weeks, we have delivered more than $350 million of security assistance to Ukraine, which the Pentagon has described as an “unprecedented pace.”
And we welcome the UK’s donors conference yesterday and its announcement that allies and partners will provide coastal defense systems, which is something that President Zelenskyy has asked for and is something that President Biden discussed extensively with Allies at NATO last week.
More than 30 nations have now sent security assistance to Ukraine, thanks in part to the leadership of the President and our diplomacy.
So why don’t I — we’re going to get to as many people as possible. Darlene, why don’t you kick us off.
Q Thanks, Jen. Welcome back.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you.
Q One question on Russia and two, quickly, on two other subjects. Russia says that an apparent attack by Ukraine on one of its fuel depots is making it harder for Russia to stay engaged in the talks to end the war. And I was wondering what the White House thinks of this suggestion from Russia that Ukraine’s actions are the ones that are potentially standing in the way of peace over there.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’ve — we have seen those reports. We’re not in a position to comment on the Kremlin’s statements. I would note Ukraine has not made any statements or confirmation of these reports.
I would also note that this is a war that President Putin started — a brutal war with Russia’s forces continuing to bombard cities across Ukraine and commit terrible acts of violence. We’ve seen the people of Ukraine fight valiantly in the face of unprovoked Russian brutality, but there is one aggressor here, and that is President Putin and the Russian military at his direction.
Q Second, on Title 42 — the announcement that it’s going to be lifted on May 23rd: Can you talk a little bit about why the restrictions aren’t lifted sooner than May 23rd, perhaps even immediately? People who want to come to the country to seek asylum will now have to wait seven weeks to do so when the CDC says that restriction is no longer necessary.
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. Well, it has always been the case and continues to be the case that this is a health directive determined by the CDC, so let me start there. But I would also say that implementation of their decision requires an interagency process, specifically leadership of the Department of Homeland Security. I would note the statement that was put out by Secretary Mayorkas. And it requires the implementation of appropriate COVID-19 mitigation protocols, also scaling up capacity and scaling up, you know, resources needed.
And so, it was always going to be important to have an implementation period, and the timeline reflects that.
Q And then the last question is: Is there any comment on the vote in Staten Island by Amazon workers to unionize?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Becoming the first in Amazon to do that.
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President was glad to see workers ensure their voices are heard with respect to important workplace decisions. He believes firmly that every worker in every state must have a free and fair choice to join a union and the right to bargain collectively with their employer. The Amazon workers in Staten Island made their choice to organize a grassroots union and bargain for better jobs and a better life.
Go ahead, MJ.
Q Jen, just in light of the fuel depot fire in Russia, what is the U.S.’s general position on potential future attacks by Ukraine on Russian soil? Does the U.S. believe that it is up to the Ukrainians to decide whether such potential attacks are justified? Or does it generally believe that those kinds of attacks should be discouraged because they would be seen as being escalatory?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, given we have not confirmed or commented specifically on the reports from here and neither has Ukraine, I’m not going to get into a future hypothetical.
What I would just reiterate again is that this is a war of aggression by the Russian leadership, by President Putin that has left millions of people displaced, homeless; has targeted civilians, hospitals, and other innocent people across Ukraine.
We know who the aggressor is; that is President Putin and Russia. And beyond that, I don’t have any comment on military tactics.
Q The President said yesterday that Vladimir Putin appears to be self-isolating, that he appears to have maybe fired or put under house arrest certain advisors. Does the U.S. have a clearer sense of which advisors are currently advising Putin and who has his ear?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President was speaking yesterday to public reporting, so we don’t have more details to speak to at this point in time.
But I would say, to go back to a couple of days ago and the information that was put out by the administration that was reflected — that came through our intelligence agencies, what we do know is that this war is not going how President Putin had planned; that his intention of winning a quick war, defeating Ukraine — the Ukrainians quickly is not how it has played out. We have seen troops be demoralized. We have seen troops run out of equipment that they need on the Russian side. And that is clearly not what he had planned.
In terms of who is advising him, I don’t have more specifics on that front from here.
Q And just one more on a separate topic. You’re obviously not the only person in the administration recently to test positive for COVID. Can you give us a sense of whether there have been discussions lately at the White House about what would happen if President Biden were to test positive for COVID?
Help us understand what working from home, quarantining, running the country would look like if the President were to get COVID.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would first say that — this wasn’t exactly your question, but let me reiterate this point — is that we take steps over and beyond CDC recommendations and guidelines here.
I would note that while I tested positive about 12 days ago, if my math is correct, I waited to return to the office until I had a negative test. And that is our protocol here — or the protocol I was held to.
Also, we take steps in advance of meeting the President. Anyone who’s meeting the President is going to have a test that day. And we also take social distancing steps in meetings when warranted.
In terms of — look, we recognize that COVID-19 remains a transmissible disease, especially recent variants. And while I’m not going to get into a future hypothetical of any of our additional principals, since — since the Second Gentleman had tested positive — testing positive — I would note that the President of the United States can work from anywhere, can run the country from anywhere. And we have the capacity to not only prepare for that but to support anything that is needed.
Q Thanks, Jen. Just a quick follow-up on the Staten Island vote.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q It’s obviously a big moment for the labor movement in this country — the first union at Amazon. Has the President had a chance to speak to labor leaders? Or is he planning to issue a statement? Is he planning to talk about it at all?
MS. PSAKI: I — I don’t have anything planned to preview for you in terms of an official statement. I’m speaking, of course, on his behalf.
Obviously, as you know, the President has been a longtime supporter of the right to organize, the right to — for workers to organize and plan for better jobs and a better life. And certainly, my comments reflect that.
Q Jen —
Q Jen just — oh, sorry. I had a quick follow-up — just comments from a senior Treasury official this morning that said, sort of, the sanctions that have been imposed by the U.S. and its allies on Russia is sort of pushing Russia to become a closed economy. That is obviously presuming that, you know, China and others are not sort of making some of the materials that they get from the West available to them.
Has the administration noted any sort of change in stance when it comes to China, you know, and Russia? Or is it — you know, is there any evidence that they’re providing perhaps military, economic support?
MS. PSAKI: Our assessment has not changed since our National Security Advisor spoke to this. What I would point out for you too, as well, is the strong statements that came from European leaders, given their meeting on exactly this topic today, which certainly we share the sentiment.
Q Lots of urgent issues discussed here, but with the helicopter approaching, one little bit of housekeeping. Is it true that you are leaving the White House to work for MSNBC?
MS. PSAKI: Well, you can’t get rid of me yet, Ed. I have nothing to confirm about my length of public service or planned service, or anything about consideration about next plans.
I’m very happy to be standing with all of you here today, after it felt like a never-ending, endless time in my basement quarantining away from my family. Believe it or not, I missed you all a lot.
And my focus every day continues to be speaking on behalf of the President; answering your questions, as tough as they may be at many times, as difficult as they may be to answer at many times. And I hope that I meet my own bar of treating everybody with fairness and being equitable.
Q And just because this has been raised by our colleagues, by people who are observing this process: Is it ethical for you to continue conducting this job while negotiating with a media outlet?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I have always gone over and above the stringent ethical and legal requirements of the Biden administration, and I take that very seriously. And as is standard for every employee of the White House, I have received rigorous ethics counseling, including as it relates to any future employment. I’ve complied with all ethics requirements and gone beyond, and taken steps to recuse myself from decisions as appropriate.
And so, I hope that all of you — I’ve been working with all of you some time — would judge me for my record and how I treat all of you, both in the briefing room and otherwise. And I try to answer questions from everybody across the board. I know everybody in the back of the room may not always be pleased with me, but I try my best. (Laughter.) And I will — I will certainly continue to do that.
Q Jen, a follow?
(Cross-talk by reporters.)
Q Are you good? Can I follow?
Q Yes. Go ahead, Kristen.
Q Jen, given the reports, which have now been confirmed by multiple media outlets, how can you continue to be an effective briefer if you do, in fact, have plans to join a media outlet?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I have nothing, again, to announce about any conversations or any future plans. And at whatever time I leave the White House, I can promise you the first thing I’m going to do is sleep and spend time with my three- and six-year-old who are my most important audiences of all.
But I would say, Kristen, that, again, I have done — have taken the ethics, legal requirements to the highest — very seriously in any discussions, in any considerations about any future employment, just as any White House official would. And I’ve taken steps beyond that to ensure there’s no conflicts.
Q And I understand what you’re saying. But I guess the question is: How is it ethical to have these conversations with media outlets while you continue to have a job standing behind that podium?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a range of stringent ethical and legal requirements that are imposed on everybody in this administration and many administrations past about any conversations you’re having with future employers. That is true of any industry you’re working in. And I have abided by those, and tried to take steps to go beyond that as well.
Q And, broadly speaking, is it the policy of this White House to allow staffers to have discussions, even indirectly, with institutions that impact and affect their jobs and your job here?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it is the policy of this White House to ensure that anyone who is having conversations about future employment does so through consultation with the White House Counsel’s Office and ensuring they abide by any ethics and legal requirements. And those are conversations that I have taken very seriously and abided by every component of.
Q Back of the room?
MS. PSAKI: Oh, okay, so let me go to Sabrina and we can go — and then we can wrap.
Q Thank you, Jen. Can you confirm —
Q You said you missed us. (Laughter.)
Q — reports that the U.S. —
MS. PSAKI: I — (laughter) — okay, I know. It may be that people who may have to see the President depart and I don’t want to hold anyone back. But I also am happy to answer your question and a couple of others if people want to stay. But if people need to —
Are they gathering right now? Sorry to interrupt your train of thought here.
MR. BATES: Yeah.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.
Q Can you confirm reports that the U.S. has been providing Ukraine with protective equipment such as gas masks, hazmat suits, and other materials because of a possible chemical weapons attack from Russia?
MS. PSAKI: So, the United States and members of the international community have, of course, repeatedly warned about the potential for Russia to use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine and that Moscow is possibly planning a false-flag operation.
In an effort to assist our Ukrainian partners, the U.S. government is providing the government of Ukraine with lifesaving equipment and supplies that could be deployed in the event of Russia — Russian use of a chemical and biological weapon against Ukraine.
It does not compromise our domestic preparedness in any way, shape, or form — just for everybody’s awareness — but we are providing it as we are providing a range of materials and equipment.
Q And just one quick question on another subject. The House passed a bill today that would remove marijuana from the federal schedule of controlled substances. Every Democrat, save for two, voted in favor of this bill. Does the President support the legislation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me say that, as the President said during the campaign, our current marilan- [sic] — marijuana laws are not working. He agrees that we need to rethink our approach, including to address the racial disparities and systemic — (Briefing Room door opens) — oh, okay — inequities in our criminal justice system, broaden research on the effects of marijuana, and support the safe use of marijuana for medical purposes.
We look forward to working with Congress to achieve our shared goals, and we’ll continue having discussions with them about this objective.
Jacqui, go ahead.
Q Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, okay, we got to wrap up in a second here. And then I’ll go to Karen.
Q Madam, one more —
Q The back? Back of the room?
MS. PSAKI: Okay, so they’re — you guys got to wrap.
Q Jen, do you have a reaction to the IEA saying they’re going to commit more oil reserves (inaudible)?
Q Should we gather now?
Q Is it a gather?
Q Should we go or —
MS. PSAKI: I’m sure we will get you a — let me — let us get you a thorough comment on that. I will say, as the President conveyed in his announcement yesterday, certainly working with the global community to ensure we are meeting the supply shortages in the global community at this time is part of our effort to reduce gas prices for Americans, given it’s a global oil market. So this is a part of that.
And we will get to a more comprehensive — I’m here and in my office if you guys have —
Q Jen, can I —
MS. PSAKI: — quick que- —
Q — can you take my question on inflation?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Real quick. Today, the President blamed Putin’s invasion of Ukraine for not just higher gas prices, but also higher food prices. Inflation was at 7.4 percent in January, before the invasion. In February, it went up to 7.9 percent. Putin didn’t invade until the 24th. So, March is really going to show the impact of the invasion, and that report doesn’t even come out until April 12th.
So how are people supposed to believe the Putin price hike is to blame for food prices going up when the timeline doesn’t add up?
MS. PSAKI: Well, here’s what the President is reflecting on: One, the price of gas has gone up by approximately a dollar or more since Putin started lining up troops at the border. This is something that outside economists have spoken to as well, not just the administration. And those are just factual details about how much the price of gas has gone up. We know that’s a huge impact, and when you say inflation, people think the cost on their pocketbook and the impact on their budgets.
The second piece, on the availability of food: We know that different markets around the world are impacted by the lack of production in Ukraine and other — because of the war. And we know that that could impact global food prices.
Q But it hasn’t happened yet. And this is the first time we’ve heard the President blame Putin for higher food prices.
MS. PSAKI: I think what the President is looking at is what the impact has been in a lot of areas that are leading to price increases on people’s pocketbooks and where we could see it increasing over the course of time.
I’m here in my office. I’ll see you all soon. Thank you, everyone.
END 3:24 P.M. EDT