Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, April 11, 2022
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:11 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Okay. Just a couple of items for all of you at the top. We tried to wait until after the backgrounder on the India bilat as well, so hopefully you were able to listen in on that.
Today, as part of the fight to help Americans deal with high costs, the Vice President is announcing new actions to protect consumers and lessen the burden of medical debt on American families.
She’ll be joined by administration leaders, including HHS Secretary Becerra, CFPB Director Chopra, and OMB Director Young.
Medical debt is now the largest source of debt in collections — more than credit cards, utilities, and auto loans combined. But it is not just a financial issue; it can have negative health effects too. Studies have found that Americans with medical debt are more likely to avoid seeking additional medical care than those without debt.
Getting sick or taking care of loved ones should not mean financial hardship for American families. That is why the administration is going to hold medical providers and debt collectors accountable for harmful practices, reduce the role that medical debt plays in determining whether Americans can access credit, help over half a million of low-income American veterans get their medical debt forgiven, and inform consumers of their rights.
These actions come on the heels of the President’s April 5th executive order on access to affordable, quality healthcare coverage.
I also wanted to note that, today, our administration launched a rural infrastructure tour to double down on the President’s unwavering commitment to building a better America where rural communities thrive.
The White House released a Rural Playbook to help state, local, Tribal, and territorial governments in rural areas unlock the historic investments from the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
This playbook offers a “what, when, where, and how” to apply for funding under the law, making it easier for rural communities to plan and compete for federal resources that create good-paying jobs and generate economic opportunities.
Secretary Haaland is kicking off the tour in Boulder County, Colorado, today. And during the month of April, Cabinet members and Biden administration officials will travel to dozens of rural communities to talk about how we are unlocking Bipartisan Infrastructure Law investments and federal resources to make sure they reach rural areas across America.
This tour includes the President’s trip tomorrow to Menlo, Iowa, outside of Des Moines, to discuss our — the administration’s actions to lower costs for working families.
There, President Biden will make an announcement on actions to reduce the impact of Putin’s price hike and build America — a better America with investments in rural communities from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
And welcome back, Karine — her first day back. We’re very thrilled to have her back here with us in the Briefing Room.
Okay. With that —
Q I’ve got three things, hopefully —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — pretty quickly. You just mentioned the President is going to Iowa as part of the Rural Playbook launch. He’s visiting a state that he lost during the 2020 campaign, and he’s going to a county that was even more voting Republican last time. I’m wondering if that will make it harder to — for that area to receive his message politically.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the President is not making this trip through a political prism. He’s making this trip because Iowa is a rural state in the country that would benefit greatly from the President’s policies, including the policies that he’ll be talking about tomorrow on his trip.
When he was running, I think many of you heard him say and convey he wanted to be the President for all people, whether you voted for him or not. And this is certainly an example of his effort to do exactly that.
Q On another topic — looking at the bilateral. How much did the President push the Prime Minister to limit Russian energy imports and arms? And what was the response?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ll let the Indian government project their response — or not their response, but their readout of the call.
I would say that energy imports are not banned. They don’t violate our sanctions. We certainly recognize every country is going to take steps that are in their interest.
At the same time, on this call, what the President did is consistent with what our Deputy National Security Advisor, of course, did during his visit just a few weeks ago — was to make clear what the impact, of course, of our sanctions would be. We expect everybody to abide by those.
And while India is — only imports about 1 to 2 percent of its energy from Russia, we also made clear and the President made clear that we would be happy to help them in diversifying this as well.
In terms of — and we also made clear, I should say, that — the President also made clear that he does not believe it’s in India’s interest to accelerate or increase imports of Russian energy and other commodities as well, which is something we certainly convey to other countries.
In terms of military — military actions: So we have not made a decision about the waiver under CAATSA. In terms of how much it was discussed during the call, I’d have to get more details from our national security team on that specifically.
Q Thanks, Jen. On the new rule today, this is already facing the threat of legal challenges — challenges from some gun groups. Given those threats, are you bracing for legal challenge? And when do you realistically expect to see this new rule take effect, given those challenges?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that this rule — or the intention to put this rule forward was announced, as you know, some time ago. And there was a lot of response to it — 250,000 comments — which is, of course, a lot to go through.
What this is a reflection of and why the President is, of course, confident or hopeful about our ability to ensure we can continue to implement it is the fact that ghost guns kill people too. Ghost guns can be purchased online. People put together these kits. There are not background checks that are required. They’re not under the same — they’re not, also, required to — to have serial numbers, which makes it more difficult for law enforcement to track when these have an impact in crimes.
So, of course, the President is confident in any executive order and the legal authority that he puts forward. But what’s important to note about the announcement he is making today is that this is — this is a rule that is supported by law enforcement; it is a rule that will help address what we know is a rising component of gun crimes across the country, which is the use of ghost guns. And to the President, it was important to take a step to address that.
Q Going off of what you just said, police tell us that these guns are as simple as clicking on the Internet and snapping parts together. Will there be — can you say, this administration say there will be fewer shootings as a result of what the President is doing today?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s always our hope and our objective — right? — is to reduce the impact of gun violence. As we’ve seen violence go up, we have seen a huge, vast majority of that — nearly three quarters — as a result of guns. And ghost guns, as you said, Cecilia, are used by simply clicking and ordering online — ordering a kit that people can make in their homes.
And that is one of the reasons why this action or efforts to take more steps has been supported by a range of law enforcement officials from — the International Association of Chiefs of Police said that ghost guns are, quote, “increasingly used by criminals and terrorists.” We saw Governor Larry Hogan — of course, a Republican, as you know — call Maryland’s ban — a bill banning ghost guns a, quote, “positive step as we seek to stem the tide of violent crime.” Brown County, Wisconsin Lieutenant Matt Ra- — Matt Ronk said ghost guns are, quote, “a new threat.”
And there are a range of police leaders and officials across the country who have conveyed how important bo- — these components that the President is announcing today are to addressing the threat of ghost guns.
Q Hey, Jen. Just to follow up: Did the President get a commitment from Prime Minister Modi not to accelerate or increase imports of Russian energy?
MS. PSAKI: I’ll let Prime Minister Modi and the Indians speak to that. Again, it’s 1 to 2 percent at this point in time. It is not — they import 10 percent from the United States. It is not a violation of any sanctions or anything along those lines. It was a constructive, direct conversation. But I will let them speak for themselves.
Q And secondly, the President said he wanted to meet Prime Minister Modi in Tokyo on or about May 24th. What else can you tell us about this trip?
MS. PSAKI: The President is looking forward to going to Asia at some point, but I don’t have any more details at this point in time. Clearly, he’s excited since he talked about it today.
Q Clearly. And lastly, any details about this announcement tomorrow in Iowa? Is it related to ethanol?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details at this point in time. As you all know, we are taking a range of steps to reduce the price of gas to move us toward a long-term, more clean energy economy, but I expect we’ll have more of a preview for you later today.
Q Thank you. Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Jen. Back to the conversation with Modi — did the President urge Modi to speak out more forcefully against the Russian invasion?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have seen the Indians do exactly that more recently, as they did as it relates to the horrific photos that we saw around Bucha. We’ve seen them take steps to provide humanitarian assistance and a range of assistance. But it is something we always encourage leaders to do: to speak out, to be vocal to ensure they’re on the right side of history.
But this was a constructive call. It was a productive call. It was — it’s a relationship that is vitally important to the United States and to the President. I would not see it as an adversarial call.
Q And then, I understand you want to let the Indians speak for themselves, but was the President seeking a promise from Modi that he wouldn’t look to increase oil purchases from Russia?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we are — the President both conveyed that we are here to help them diversify their means of importing oil. Again, our — the imports from the United States are already significant — or much bigger than the imports that they get from Russia. And we, of course — the President conveyed very clearly that it is not in their interest to increase that.
But beyond that, I would let the Indian leaders speak for themselves.
Q And then —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead. Go ahead.
Q And then, finally, I’m wondering if — you know, last night, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, told “60 Minutes” that the Ukrainian military has recordings of conversations between Russian troops, talking about committing atrocities that would qualify as war crimes. I’m wondering if anyone in the U.S. government has been able to listen to these intercepts or whether the U.S. government has similar intercepts.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have anything to confirm on that front from here. But what I would reiterate is something Jake Sullivan said last week, which is that, as we’re looking to provide data and information to war crimes investigations — of which there are a range of options currently underway: the OSCE, obviously the ICC, the Ukrainian Special Prosecutor is also gathering information — we’re going to provide any data and information we can, and we’re going to encourage other countries to do exactly that.
We’ve already called a range of these action we’ve seen “war crimes.” That is important, but there’s also going to be an investigative step where all of this will be — will be fed into. That can also take some time.
Q If this ended up at The Hague, is that something that the White House would support?
MS. PSAKI: We’re not going to prejudge which format or forum that it can take. There are a range of different options that history has utilized, whether it’s I- — the ICC or the OSCE. And basically, an international fora is probably the appropriate forum, but we’re not going to predetermine what that looks like.
Q Thank you, Jen. Does the U.S. intend to return its diplomatic presence to Kyiv?
MS. PSAKI: That is, of course, our objective over the course of time, but we’re going to have to assess when it’s the right time to do exactly that.
Q Is it considering moving back into Ukraine, potentially to Lviv, sooner rather than later?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a prediction of that at this point. Obviously, we — it’s in our interest to have a diplomatic presence on the ground. But that is an assessment made by the State Department, made through the prism of security considerations. And sometimes it’s a smaller presence that gets larger, but they are really the appropriate entity to speak to that.
Q Is there any concern that if the U.S. does not get its diplomatic presence back sooner, that it’ll appear that we’re leading from behind, as you’ve got the European Union, I believe the Czech Republic, Italy — a lot of countries are coming forward and saying that they’re going back to Ukraine, and the U.S. hasn’t done it yet.
MS. PSAKI: I would say that the most important thing the United States has done and continues to do is lead the entire global coalition in standing up against Russia; and ensuring we are providing military, security assistance, expediting that, tapping into not only our own resources but the resources of countries around the world; and leading the world in a package of economic sanctions that has had a crippling impact on the Russian economy. Those are the most important factors.
Q Has the President asked to go to Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into private conversations. What I will tell you is we’re not currently planning a trip by the President of the United States to Ukraine. What is most important to the Ukrainian leadership is that we are expediting weapons and getting them the assistance and security systems they need. And that is what our focus is on.
Q And who decides if the President goes to Ukraine or not?
MS. PSAKI: In what way?
Q He had said, when he was in Poland, that he expressed interest in going to Ukraine, but “they wouldn’t let me.” So I’m wondering who advises that.
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into private considerations internally on that front.
Q Okay. And then, on Title 42, you said over the weekend that the administration agrees more needs to be done; the immigration system is broken. This was in response to a question about —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — Democrats who don’t want to lift it right now. You invited Republicans to work with the White House to get something done on immigration, but has the White House actually reached out to any Republicans to try to move this forward recently?
MS. PSAKI: It has been a longstanding open invitation. Any Republican who wants to work with us on immigration reform, you’re invited; let’s have a conversation. We have not seen an expression of that interest across the board.
Q So you’re wanting Republicans to go to you. The White House is not reaching out, then, any (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: We have conversations with Democrats and Republicans all the time, Jacqui. But I think it’s clear what we’re seeing from Republicans is an effort to politicize this and not fix what we all recognize is an outdated and broken system.
Q And one last question. You said on Friday that the Vice President was masked indoors all day, but the White House tweeted a video showing her standing over the President without a mask on. Can you explain what happened there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that the Vice President and the President and all of us abide by what the CDC protocols are. It was an emotional day. It was a historic day. And there were moments when she was not wearing a mask inside, including in a photo. But she was wearing it 99.9 percent of the time.
I would note the President and the Vice President have both tested negative in the last 24 hours. And, you know, we have felt and made the decision it’s important for — to share it with all of you when there are close contacts; that’s exactly what we did.
Why it’s of interest to the public, I think, is — and you guys can agree or disagree with me — is because the four principals — the public has a right to know and an interest in knowing when the four principals have — have exposure or close-contact exposure to any individuals who have COVID.
The Vice President is now post- — five days post-exposure. She tested negative.
Oh, go ahead. You — oh, sorry. I’ll go to Kaitlan. Go ahead. Go ahead, sorry. I jumped around. I didn’t mean to. I — go ahead.
Q Speaking of India’s response to Russia’s invasion, they have abstained from several votes at the United Nations, condemning the invasion, suspending Russia from the Human Rights Council. Did President Biden raise that during their call today?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details beyond what was raised or briefed out in the background call. Obviously, the call concluded. We just did a briefing call. I don’t have any more details beyond that.
Q So you can’t say if President Biden asked them to condemn the invasion?
MS. PSAKI: They have condemned the recent horrific atrocities we saw in Bucha. And certainly, as we see more, we expect them to do exactly that as well.
Q What does the U.S. assess this new Russian general overseeing the invasion will mean for it going forward?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say our view is that even a changeover in personnel or leadership at the top is not going to erase the fact that this is a strategic failure for Russia.
What we should all be aware of, and we are certainly aware of, is this is a general who was already responsible for overseeing atrocities in Syria, and that we would expect that it would be a continuation of the type of atrocities we’ve already seen take place in Ukraine.
But again, they have not — it has not gone as President Putin has planned, and we don’t expect a change in personnel would change that.
Q Are you concerned it could get worse?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Kaitlan, separate from any change of leadership at the top, what we have seen or we expect is: As they have coalesced their sort — their resources and their — you know, all of the resources that they have into eastern — most of them, I should say — into eastern Ukraine, we certainly expect that they will seek to surround and overwhelm Ukrainian forces in that part of the country; we expect Russia will continue to launch air and missile strikes across the rest of the country to cause military and economic damage; and we expect this stage of the conflict could last a long time.
And we should have no illusions that Russia is going to adjust their tactics and make them less brutal. And certainly, changes in leadership reflect a continuation of the type of atrocities we’ve seen or the type of approach that we’ve seen and we’ve also predicted from the beginning.
Q And just to follow on Jacqui’s question, what is the threshold for reopening the U.S. embassy in Kyiv?
MS. PSAKI: I’d point you to the State Department if they have any more specifics they want to outline publicly.
Obviously, we want to have a diplomatic re- — presence on the ground; that’s always going to be our objective.
Go ahead. Oh, Kelly, go ahead. Go ahead.
Q It’s been years since there’s been a confirmed ATF director.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q And what do you think will be different now with this new nomination the President is putting forward? And do you think the absence of that kind of leadership has had any part in the increase in gun violence the country has seen?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I — it’s hard for — it’s hard for me to make a conclusion or us to make a conclusion on that from here.
But what I — what we know is that having confirmed leadership leading any agency, including one as important as the ATF, always is going to make the systems, the processes, the ability to get policymaking done more efficient and effective.
And there’s no question it’s a net positive to have someone confirmed to lead ATF.
I would say that, you know, Steve, who is our nominee — or announced nominee — is a highly qualified candidate with decades of law enforcement experience, including through partnerships with the ATF, to prosecute complex cases and take down violent criminal gangs. He’s received bipartisan support from law enforcement leaders. He was confirmed unanimously when he was nominated to serve as a federal prosecutor.
And our view is that if Republicans are about getting tough on crime, as we are, and keeping our communities safe, they should support a career prosecutor like Steve Dettelbach, who can make ATF more effective in getting guns off our streets and stopping criminals.
And it’s in all of our interest to have a confirmed nominee, and we think he is eminently qualified to do exactly that.
Q And just to follow on the issue of the Vice President and the masking: A couple of times, you’ve cited “emotional day,” “important day,” “important role” she was playing. You’re not saying that those things are reasons to not follow CDC guidance?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely not. And I appreciate your question on that. What I was conveying is that, you know, while she has worn a mask — as is protocol and as is our expectation of everyone from the Vice President, the President, all of us on down if you have a close contact — that there was a photo, as Jacqui said, and there — there are moments when she was human and she didn’t have a pho- — mask on in a photo.
But she has worn the mask. And certainly, that is what we want to convey to the American people.
Q Is it because of the photo? Because it’s an important day and the photo will live for decades that — we all understand — I mean, I’m wearing a mask today; I don’t always wear a mask.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Is that the reason?
MS. PSAKI: I think it was a decision made in the moment. But it doesn’t mean that we don’t all try to be model citizens here and abide by what the CDC protocols are on requirements.
And I conveyed and wanted to reiterate that she did test negative, in case those of you had not seen that, because she now is at that five-day past the close contact.
Q Oh, thank you. Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Khan, was deposed this weekend following the no-confidence vote in Parliament. What is the administration’s reaction to those developments? And does President Biden have any plans to speak with the country’s new Prime Minister, Shehbaz Sharif?
MS. PSAKI: So, we support the peaceful upholding of constitutional and democratic principles. We don’t support one political party over another. And we certainly support the principles of rule of law and equal justice under the law.
We value our longstanding cooperation with Pakistan, have always viewed a prosperous and democratic Pakistan as critical to U.S. interests. That remains unchanged regardless of who leadership is.
In terms of a future call, I don’t have anything to predict at this point in time. Obviously, we stay in close touch with them at a range of levels.
Q And then one more question on the President’s call with Prime Minister Modi. Was India’s acquisition of the S-400 missile defense system from Russia a topic of discussion? And do you have any updates on whether the U.S. would impose sanctions that would be triggered under CAATSA or issue a waiver should India go through with that purchase?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, I — I don’t have an update. As I said, kind of, to an earlier question on the CAATSA waiver that would be required, I don’t have an update at this point in time. I can see if there’s more to report out to you before the end of the day.
Q Tomorrow is CPI day. It’s probably, obviously, going to capture the start of the war and pretty significant spikes in energy. Can you give us a sense of what you’re expecting and what, if any, change this will make for what talks may or may not be going on with the Hill on what pieces may or may not be passed of a bill that may or may not have a name? I don’t know (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: Sounds very hypothetical and hopeful. Okay.
Q How high do you — how high do you expect these numbers to be? And —
MS. PSAKI: Sure, and —
Q — is there any impact on the strategy to pass what you believe to be —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — inflation-cooling measures —
MS. PSAKI: Yes —
Q — in the medium term?
MS. PSAKI: — I understand your question.
So, because of the actions we’ve taken to address Putin — the Putin price hike, we are in a better place than we were last month. But we expect March CPA — CPI headline inflation to be extraordinarily elevated due to Putin’s price hike. And we expect a large difference between core and headline inflation, reflecting the global disruptions in energy and food markets.
A core infla- — inflation doesn’t include energy and food prices; headline inflation does. And, of course, we know that core inflation, you know, energy — the impact of energy, of course, on oil prices, gas prices, we expect that to continue to reflect what we’ve seen the increases be over the course of this invasion.
And just as an example: Since President Putin’s military buildup accelerated in January, average gas prices are up more than 80 cents, most of the increase occurred in the month of March. And at times, gas prices were more than a dollar above pre-invasion level. So, that roughly 25 percent increase in gas prices will drive tomorrow’s inflation reading. And certainly, it’s not a surprise to us, but we certainly think it will be reflected.
And in March, again, to give you a point of comparison, the average cost of a barrel of oil was around $110. That’s compared to about $75 at the beginning of the year. So, we expect this to all be reflected as we look at the data tomorrow.
I will say that anytime there is heightened monthly data or inflation reporting or numbers, it is a reminder to us, to our allies on the Hill, and hopefully to many of the American people that we need to do more to reduce costs for the American people.
We have, of course, legislation that could do exactly that: cut the costs of childcare, of healthcare, of eldercare. These all have enormous impacts on people’s budgets; on when they’re, you know, doing those calculations at their kitchen table.
And — and certainly this data will be a reminder of the need to do something and take additional steps.
Q And, Jen, so he —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — the President signed the PNTR bill on Friday.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q Do you have anything to share on next steps for that? In other words, how quickly would tariffs on Russian goods change across the (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, that’s a great question. Let me see if I can get to a more — how quickly it would be implemented — you know, when they would see the tariffs is you’re asking?
Q Yeah, correct.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q And finally, the announcement this afternoon on guns. Of course, the backdrop to this is a lot of cities are seeing significant instances of gun crime —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — or, sort of, violent crime more generally. Can you give us an update of where the administration stands on a push for a police reform package to pass through Congress? Are those talks ongoing at all or is the calculus that the, sort of, escalation in crime has made it even more difficult to pass a police reform package right now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, on gun violence — which we do recognize as an enormous problem and, of course, a driver of what we’ve seen as the rising — rising rates of crime across the country for some time — you know, we are going to continue to call on Congress to do more. We’re not going to wait while lives are being lost and when more reforms need to be put in place.
So, yeah, I mean, I think there’s, like, kind of two components here. There’s obviously police reform. There were bipartisan conversations. We sort of paused on our review of an executive order for that period of time out of respect for that process. Obviously, that’s not a process that is rapidly moving forward. We’re continuing to review and have every intention of the President signing an executive order on police reform.
I would note that we’ve also taken steps from the Department of Justice to ban chokeholds and take other steps that we have the capacity to do from the federal government. But in order to make reforms impactful over the long term and more expansive, we need legislation.
On guns, you know, we have also taken steps. The President has done more to fight gun violence and keep our communities safe than any President in history in his first year in office. This is obviously an issue that is close to his heart, something he’s passionate about and has been for decades.
And choking off the supply of guns being used in crimes, including by cracking down on gun traffickers and firearms dealers who are selling guns illegally, is one of the steps we’ve taken.
But also, we’ve taken steps to put more cops on the beat, investing in proven community-based programs to make our streets safer. Doing all of this to prop up, while also supporting reforms, local police — make sure they have the funding they need, while also putting in place, in whatever capacity we have, gun reform measures, as the President is doing today, to help address some of the rising impacts like ghost guns.
Q Yes, but is it your assessment that, right now, there’s no appetite in Congress to pass the George Floyd policing bill?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I — I don’t want to speak for Congress. And so, they can speak for that and what they think the potential is. And obviously, we’re going to continue to advocate for that, to push for that, to press for that. But we’re not going to wait to take additional steps that we have the executive authority to take.
Q Jen, if I can circle back to the call that the President had earlier today with the prime minister of India. A senior administration official did brief us earlier today and said that “We haven’t asked India to do anything in particular.” This was on energy imports. But then later said, “We don’t think
Russia [India] should accelerate imports from Russian oil.” So can you tell us, did the President explicitly ask not for an acceleration of Russian oil?
MS. PSAKI: It’s more, as it was articulated — and I just articulated it, I hope — maybe not clearly — about conveying that we don’t think it’s in their interest to import more Russian oil. They’re only importing 1 to 2 percent at this point in time.
We’re here to diversify and help them diversify, as we’ve done with other European countries, should they make that choice to do.
They’re not violating any sanctions by importing oil. It’s a decision we made from the United States, but we also recognize different countries have their own calculations.
Q But it was not an explicit ask?
MS. PSAKI: It was conveying exactly the — how I just described it.
Q Okay. Can I ask you one other question on inflation? You were referring, just a minute ago, to the consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Vladimir Putin. I know we’ve often heard the administration refer to “Putin’s price hike.”
I just got back — actually, last week, I was out in Michigan talking to a lot of voters who told me that they feel like the inflation has predated the war. And I’m curious how the administration just, you know, split — squares this all together. I mean, many voters do feel that inflation, correctly so, predates the war and it can’t all be blamed on Vladimir Putin.
MS. PSAKI: We’ve never — we talked about inflation long before there was an invasion. But we also know that factually, if you look at the data, the average gas prices are up $1, 80 cents — 80 cents to $1. It’s about a 25 percent, we’ve seen, increase in gas prices since the start of this invasion. And we know energy prices is a big driver of the inflation data.
So, that’s if you look at the economic data. It doesn’t mean — I’m not suggesting every person in this country looks at data and assesses in that way. They assess how they feel and what the impacts are on them.
We’ve long talked about, since at least I started this job since the President came into office, the impacts of the pandemic on supply chains, how that’s impacted a range of costs, and steps we’re taking to address those, whether it’s ensuring there’s — are goods moving through ports or other steps we can take to ensure there are — we fund chips manufacturing, because autos and the production of autos — and maybe this was a case or an issue when you were in Michigan — is def- — has definitely been a driver over the case [sic] of time. So they’re — the course of time.
So there’s a lot of different issues. But we have — there’s no question that energy prices continue to be, month by month, a driver of inflationary data. And we know that since the start of this invasion, because of the reduction of oil and the supply in the global oil market, that that — from Putin’s invasion — that that is a big driver.
Q Jen, thanks so much. Just, sort of, circling back to Kelly’s question —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — about a new ATF nominee: Have — can you describe any outreach that’s been done to the Senate to ensure that the confirmation process goes more smoothly than it did to the last, sort of, selection?
MS. PSAKI: Well, because we’re just announcing him today, I would expect it would be from here forward, right?
Obviously, there are notifications that happen in advance of any announcement, but certainly we feel that he is somebody who has been supported from a bi- — had bipartisan support in the past, is broadly supported by a number of — of police groups, and that he’s an excellent candidate to lead — to lead ATF.
But I wouldn’t validate a process going awry. I think it’s more about whether or not Republicans in Congress feel that there should be a head of the ATF. And we believe there should be, and this is a person who is eminently qualified to do that.
Q Did the notification process include Senator Manchin’s office?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into specifics of the notification process. But obviously, since he’s just making this announcement today, I would expect that the outreach picks up from here.
Q Okay. And then, just on the — the President was photographed over the weekend in Washington, D.C., wearing a mask. I just wanted to — if you could go through when he masks and when he doesn’t. It would appear that he did not have a close contact, but correct me if that’s wrong.
MS. PSAKI: He did not, but we all make decisions. Some people in here are wearing masks to — wear masks to make them more comfortable, or because they chose to that day, or maybe they’re going to be around family members or people who may be immunocompromised or vulnerable. And the President makes that decision, as we all do as well.
Q Jen, could I just ask a — kind of a broader question related to the Modi meeting?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q You’ve talked a lot about the President’s leadership in terms of assembling a global coalition against Russia. But that global coalition isn’t really global, in the sense that there are many countries out there — India is one of them — that hasn’t really joined, hasn’t really taken a side. They’ve sort of adopted a neutral stance — as Kaitlan mentioned, the votes in the U.N., including the most recent one on kicking Russia out of the U.N. Human Rights Council.
So, is Ru- — I mean, do you — do you all consider India an example of a kind of failure to broaden the coalition to countries like India beyond the sort of core European countries?
And if so, what — you know, was this call used or just does the President see pressure to use a call like this to expand that global coalition even further so that Russia doesn’t have the kind of lifelines that it — that it needs to escape — to escape the sanctions and the like?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say building more than 50 percent — far more than 50 percent of the world’s GDP into a global coalition is hardly a failure. I don’t think anyone would call that a failure.
But what India has done to date — and our objective and part of the objective of a phone call like this is to have a diplomatic conversation to build on this — right? — recognizing that countries go at different paces and — taking steps to support countries like Ukraine.
What — what India has done to date is they have condemned the killings of civilians in Bucha. They have supported, they’ve called — they’ve supported calls for an independent investigation. They’ve provided over 90 tons of humanitarian relief material to Ukraine and its neighbors to include medicine and other essential relief. Earlier in the conflict, they also used its resources to evacuate almost 150 foreign nationals for 18 different countries.
So, part of our objectives now is to build on that and to encourage them to do more. And that’s why it’s important to have leader-to-leader conversations.
Q The mask mandate for public transportation like trains, buses, and airplanes —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — expires next week. Does the White House or the administration have any plans on extending that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s a decision made by the CDC, so they will make that decision. And I’m not aware of a decision being made at this point, but I would certainly point you to them.
Q I’d like to switch gears here. Do you have an update on Brittney Griner? Russian state media reporting that her detention has been extended at least until May 19th. And also, is it still a strategy not to talk about her here or limit talk about her case to keep from politicizing it?
MS. PSAKI: So, the State Department will have the most up-to-date information. I think it’s been out for some time — the extension of her detention there.
We typically don’t talk about cases in advance of having a Privacy Act waiver. Once we had a Privacy Act waiver, we can talk about it more.
But historically — and having formerly served at the State Department — it is not typically constructive to talk a great deal about these cases of individuals who are detained; it can, historically, impact our ability to bring them home. And that, of course, is our objective.
But the State Department makes those determinations. They are in closest touch with efforts to bring her home, and that certainly is our objective.
Q And I have to ask: Trevor Reed or Paul Whelan?
MS. PSAKI: Again, you know, these are of course individuals — and we want to do everything we can and we are doing everything we can to bring them home, including raising their cases at every opportunity.
But typically, it does not benefit the cases to talk publicly about these cases, and I would use evidence of some individuals we’ve been able to bring home from a variety of places in the last several months where we didn’t talk a lot about them in advance.
Our goal is to bring them home.
Q Thanks, Jen. On the President’s conversation with Modi, I’m wondering if the fact that Mayor Garcetti doesn’t have — appear to have the votes for confirmation right now, is there any concern around that, especially given how much the U.S. wants to press India not to cooperate with Russia? Was that — you know, the question of his confirmation discussed? And (inaudible) —
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of it being a topic during the call.
Q Does the President still support his nomination?
MS. PSAKI: Yep. He does.
Q And then, is there any reaction on the French election and the outcome with Le Pen and —
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s not an outcome yet. It goes to a runoff. So, obviously, at this point, we’re not going to speak to that.
Q Thank you. In the call, Prime Minister Modi thanked President Biden for organizing this call. Can you give us a broader context into why this call was organized by President Biden and at this particular time?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, I would say we — India is an incredibly important partner. We consult very closely with India on a range of issues. And this was an opportunity to discuss — work very closely and discuss the consequences of Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified war against Ukraine.
This builds on discussions that have happened — obviously at a lower level than Prime Minister Modi and President Biden — but certainly is a reflection of the value the President sees in leader-to-leader diplomacy and having conversations that are candid, that are direct, but also provide, hopefully, a pathway to continuing to build on the steps we’ve seen India take in recent weeks.
Q Given the situation that (inaudible) with Pakistan, what is your assessment of the situation there, given that the (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: In terms of the new leadership? Or what aspects?
Q The security aspect of Pakistan (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a new assessment from here to offer. I would point you to the Defense Department.
Q Thanks, Jen. Several Parkland parents — including Manuel Oliver, who was taken into police custody at the White House in February while attempting to get the President’s attention — will be attending today’s Rose Garden event. Does President Biden have any plans to meet with Oliver or any of the other Parkland parents at the gun violence prevention event?
MS. PSAKI: I will check. I don’t believe there are additional meetings. But obviously, inviting these incredibly courageous parents who have experienced the worst thing that can happen to a parent in their lives is a reflection of his respect and all of our respect for the work they’ve done, their advocacy, and certainly an acknowledgement of that.
Q And yesterday — on a separate topic: Yesterday, Larry Summers warned that a recession could be on the way in the next two years, based on the inflation and unemployment rates. Is the White House also concerned that a recession could hit in the next two years? And what do you make of his prescription of tariff reduction, Strategic Petroleum Reserve release, adjusting immigration flows, and the federal government purchasing things more inexpensively?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say a number of those things we’re already doing. But I would say, to your earlier question, we of course continue to assess our — the state of our economy, the health of our economy.
That’s not a projection we have made from here. We believe that the economy is strong. We have created more jobs last year than any year in American history. We saw the unemployment rate at 3.6 percent last month. And we know that as we’re continuing through an economic recovery, that there are areas that we need to focus on, including bringing down costs for the American people.
But we are continuing to assess. We have not made the — that projection from U.S. government economists that — that Larry Summers has made.
Q Thanks, Jen. On the guns, Biden’s approval rating on crime is at 34 percent per some of the latest polling. That’s at the same time, as you know, that background checks have a lot of approval from the American public, as well as there is 63 percent that have supported the ghost gun regulation that you guys are finalizing today. What’s causing the disconnect there? Is there any plan to change the White House’s messaging, moving forward, from the events today?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would first say that there’s nothing the President would love more than signing background check legislation into law. That’s something he has been a leader, a champion, and an advocate for throughout his career, inclu- — and also banning assault weapons.
He’d love to be having an event in the Rose Garden today signing legislation into law. And you’re right: It’s hugely popular. It doesn’t make a lot of sense except for the hold the NRA still seems to have over components of government at this point in time — not our government, but people who are elected.
So, I wouldn’t say our messaging has changed. I think it’s important — and that’s always been the case. But ghost guns, we know, are an area where we can take steps to help — through executive authority and through executive actions, as the President is doing today — to put in place background checks, to put in place a requirement of serial numbers, to bring them more in line with a range of other guns. But we’d love to get background check — broad background check legislation signed.
Q And then I just wanted to ask you: Do you have any response to the news that Jared Kushner secured a $2 billion investment from a fund led by Saudi Crown Prince — (inaudible) by the Saudi Crown Prince?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any comment from here, but maybe they’ll have a comment.
Q Thanks, Jen. Going back to the Ukrainian-Russian war, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer is meeting with Putin in Moscow. What does the administration have to say about that? What does he — what does the President think that will achieve?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve encouraged or supported any efforts at diplomacy. We’ve, though, encouraged anyone who is speaking with or meeting with — however they’re engaging — with President Putin to also engage with Ukrainians. They are the country that is being invaded right now. And so, if you’re going to play a role in diplomacy, that is an especially important component.
I would expect, at some point, some — we’ll get a readout of their conversation. So I can’t predict if it’s constructive or not.
Q And a follow-up on Pakistan, if you will: The new Prime Minister Sharif — what arrangements does the administration have to contact him? And what’s moving forward on that?
MS. PSAKI: You mean, whether there will be a call from the President?
Q Right. And also —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have — oh, go ahead.
Q — what expectations are there for his new administration too?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a prediction of a call at this point in time. I mean, obviously, those are assessments made day by day and especially after new leaders are elected, of course.
We have a long — a strong and abiding relationship with Pakistan — an important security relationship — and that will continue under new leaders.
Q Hey. Thanks, Jen. So you’ve said that 2 percent of the oil coming from Russia going — is imported into India.
MS. PSAKI: One to two.
Q One to two. That’s about 16 million barrels. So far, according to contracts, India has imported 13 million barrels since the war began — or since the invasion began of Ukraine. Why not just come out and ask them to help isolate the Russian president?
MS. PSAKI: I think the President conveying, our Deputy National Security Advisor conveying they should take steps — we encourage them to take steps — to diversify; we’re here to help and assist in that — and also conveying it’s not in their interest to increase the import of Russian oil — I think that speaks for itself.
But we also know different countries are going to make decisions based on what their needs are economically and what the needs are for the people in their country.
We have, of course, banned importing — the import of oil here. Other countries have not done that. So it’s not a violation of any sanctions or any requirement or request from our end.
Q On inflation — so you’re saying that because of the President’s work then, we will see in the core inflation — without gas and food, you’ll see that core come down, and you’ll see the results of his work in that inflation number?
MS. PSAKI: I was making a prediction not of that, but of the fact that you’re going to see — because of the increase in the price of oil, you’re going to see an increase in the overarching headline number.
Q But the core inflation — you’re saying that the President’s (inaudible) —
MS. PSAKI: The core inflation, as you know, because you cover this very closely, does impact a range of factors that we’re still working to address. So — but I was making a prediction about the headline component.
Q Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Thanks, everyone. See you tomorrow —
Q Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: — or only if you’re going to Iowa, I guess. (Laughter.)
Q Are you going?
MS. PSAKI: For those — yes, I wouldn’t miss it. Been to more state fairs than most.
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