Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jen Psaki
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Des Moines, Iowa
1:24 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Okay, welcome to our trip to Iowa. Two items for you at the top.
One, you may have seen this, but we put out a readout of the President’s call with Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom and about his recent visit — the Prime Minister’s recent visit to Ukraine.
In the readout, just to highlight a few points: “The leaders affirmed their commitment to continue providing security and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine in the face of ongoing atrocities by Russia. They also welcomed ongoing cooperation with allies and partners to impose severe costs on Russia for its unprovoked and unjustified war.”
Also wanted to highlight part of the reason — a big part of the reason we’re going to Iowa today: Today, the President is announcing — sorry, dramatic windup — new steps to achieve the goal of reducing — of building real energy independence in the long term by reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, by increasing fuel supplies, offering more consumer choices, and reducing gasoline prices for Americans. And, of course, doing that on a day where we’ve seen that energy prices is about 70 percent of the headline CPA — CPI data. So, we know we need to do everything possible to reduce costs for the American people.
He’s going to announce that the EPA Administrator is planning to allow E15 gasoline — gasoline that uses a 15 percent ethanol blend — to be sold this summer. This is the latest step in expanding Americans’ access to affordable fuel supply and bringing relief to Americans suffering from Putin’s price hike at the pump.
To make E15 available in the summer, the EPA is planning to issue a national emergency waiver. Without this action, E15 cannot be used in most of the country from June 1st to September 15th, and the EPA plans to take final action to issue the emergency waiver closer to June 1st.
E15 is currently offered at 2,300 gas stations in the country, many of them in the Midwest, where it can serve as an important and more affordable source of fuel.
At current prices, E15 can save a family 10 cents per gallon of gas on average, and many stores sell E15 at an even greater discount.
With that, (inaudible).
Q So, is the United States participating in an investigation into whether chemical weapons were used in Mariupol?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve nothing to confirm at this time. Of course, we are going to contribute in every way we can to getting to the bottom of it, but we don’t have anyone on the ground as a part of that at this point in time, as you well know. So I don’t have any updates.
Q Did you see the comments from President Putin out in eastern Russia in which he seemed to be very defensive and said the military operation will continue?
MS. PSAKI: That — I have not seen those comments, but that is certainly in lined — in line with our expectations and what we’ve seen over the course of the last several days, which is a repositioning, not a total withdrawal.
And while we can certainly applaud the Ukrainians for their bravery and courage in essentially winning the Battle of Kyiv, we know that the brutality and the intention of taking over, militarily, portions of Ukraine, parts of the country — a sovereign country — we expect that to continue.
Q Jen, you just mentioned that 70 percent of the CPI increase was gasoline related. We saw prices go up for housing, men’s clothing, airfare —
Q — food — you know, transportation, and all sorts of things. I’m just wondering if — what in this report has the White House convinced that inflation isn’t being embedded into the economy going forward?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that the projections con- –from the Federal Reserve and other outside economists continue to be that inflation will moderate by year end. But we are not going to wait for that. And that is one of the reasons that the President is going to continue to take steps.
One step he’s taking, of course, today, which is to lower the cost of gasoline by — by announcing the EPA waivers that E15 can be available at 2,300 gas stations across the country.
But beyond that, he’s obviously taken steps to release a historic amount from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. And we’ve continued to advocate for actions Congress can take to lower costs for Americans.
And if you look at how all of those costs impact Americans, we know that big, big costs — our childcare, healthcare, eldercare — these are all areas where the President has proposed a plan to reduce costs, and certainly it’s reminder of the importance of moving forward with that.
Q Jen, on the fuel waivers, the EPA’s own guidance says specifically that these waivers aren’t supposed to be used for relieving high gas prices. Some critics are also pointing to the fact that you’re declaring an emergency in June; we’re sitting in April right now. Can you kind of talk through why we’re taking some unprecedented steps or using some unprecedented justifications for this waiver?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve seen gas prices go up anywhere from 80 cents to a dollar since the — since President Putin invaded Ukraine. And that is certainly having a significant impact on the pocketbooks of Americans across the country.
And so, there are a range of reasons to take this step — and, of course, that the EPA is taking this step. But certainly, the fact that, right now, without this step, 2,3000 gas stations would essentially have a cover over the E15 gas pumps, not allowing people to utilize gas that is less expensive and not allowing additional supply to get into the marketplace.
So, at this moment where, obviously, we have a foreign dictator invading another country, we want to give ourselves additional flexibility and also do whatever we can do reduce costs for the American people.
Q And you mentioned the Federal Reserve. There’s been some reporting that Michael Barr is a leading candidate for the nomination that Sarah Bloom Raskin had before. Can you confirm whether or not that’s true in terms of if he’s being considered, and also, kind of, give a sense of timeline for when you guys expect to make that announcement?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to confirm and no guidance to offer other than to reiterate that the President has every intention of nominating an eminently qualified person to fill this important role in the Federal Reserve.
Q And the last one on Ukraine. There seems to be a new offensive mounting — that Russia is mounting towards eastern Ukraine. Specifically, I’m wondering if you have a sense of — well, what you expect to happen there and what you’re worried about, what you’re looking at in terms of that situation.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. So on the ground — and I know my colleagues at the Department of Defense did a backgrounder today as well — but all indications are that Russia will seek to surround and overwhelm Ukrainian forces in that region. We expect Russia will continue to launch air and missile strikes across the rest of the country to cause military and economic damage and to cause terror, because Russia’s goal in the end is to weaken Ukraine as much as possible.
We also expect that this stage of the conflict could last a long time. And we should have no illusions that Russia will adjust its brutal tactics.
So, of course, what our focus is on is continuing to provide a range of security assistance. We essentially look at and review the requests made by Ukrainian leaders. And last week, they had a call with our Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and our National Security Advisor — a two-hour call — where they went through items on that list.
And I think this was already — this was also provided by the Defense Department, but let me reiterate: We’re also — as we’re looking to continue to expedite delivery — we’ve committed $1.7 billion, as you all know — we’re working to provide the Ukrainians with artillery systems that they have recently requested in conversations between our governments. And we’re working to provide them with artillery from U.S. stocks but also to facilitate the transfer from other allies and partners as well, as we did with the S-300 and the backfill of the Patriot battery system.
Q Jake had said over the weekend that some of those additional — some of that additional military aid might need trainings from Western — do you have any sense of how that’s going to work, where that training would happen, and who would be involved?
MS. PSAKI: That is what we’re discussing and still working through.
Q Jen, I want to ask about the subway shooting — the subway attack in New York. What more can you tell us about what the White House’s contact has been with New York City and New York state officials? Has the President spoken to the mayor or the governor? What kind of assistance has the White House offered? What has New York City asked for? And do you know why the NYPD has already said that, at this time, this isn’t being investigated as terror?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the investigation is going to happen and be overseen by local New York authorities. The New York Police Department Counterterrorism Unit is working with the JTF- — TF [JTTF], the FBI, and the ATF to investigate. So, certainly, we would assist in every appropriate way through those channels.
As we noted earlier this morning, not only has the President been briefed on latest developments, but White House senior staff are in touch with Mayor Adams, with poli- — with the police commissioner, and we’ve offered any assistance we can provide.
I just spoke again with the President about this earlier on the plane, and he reiterated that that is his — his request of his team. Anything they need, anything they want, we are here to help them and provide that to them.
He has not yet had a call. If that happens today, I will provide that information to all of you.
Q Do you know why they’ve said that this is not, at this time, being investigated as terror; if this investigation is so preliminary, why they’ve ruled that out?
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to them. They’re overseeing the investigation.
Q Do you think we might hear from the President specifically on this — on this matter today?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a prediction of that at this point in time, but if there are updates to provide from our end, I’ll let you all know.
Q Can I ask a follow-up on the use of possible chemical weapons or poisonous gas in Russia? What would our response be if that is verified? How — and how long might it take to verify that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to speculate about hypotheticals. We don’t have confirmation of the use, and so I’m not going to speculate on hypotheticals at this point.
I will note that it is difficult to get the data and information that you need in cases like this. We don’t have — we don’t have a team on the ground, obviously.
I would note that we did have credical [sic] — credible information before today that Russia may use a variety of riot control agents, including tear gas mixed with chemical agents, that would cause stronger symptoms in order to weaken and incapacitate entrenched Ukrainian fighters and civilians as part of its aggressive campaign to take Mariupol.
We shared that information with the Ukrainians at the time. And of course, we’ll continue to share up-to-date intelligence-gathering information.
But at this point in time, we have no confirmation, so I’m not going to get ahead of that process.
Q And one more about China. I understand there’s advice to — going out to Americans — a recommendation not to travel to China right now because of zero-COVID policies and the possibility of parents being separated from their children, which we know is happening, obviously, now in China. Do we have any evidence or any talk of that happening to American citizens right now who are in China?
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the State Department. They provide that type of guidance and information to the American people, wherever they are in the world. They do it out of an abundance of caution and to make sure they’re as transparent as possible about what they’re seeing on the ground in countries.
And I believe it was specific to Shanghai, not all of China —
Q Jen, on —
MS. PSAKI: — I believe.
Q Back on CPI: I think you said yesterday you don’t expect most people to dive beyond headline inflation. So how concerned is the White House that people are going to see that 8.5 percent sort of roll back their spending and then drive us into a recession?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would also say that core CPI did go down this month. I don’t want to over-crank that, but that is certainly also data we look at.
And we noted that — our expectation about headline CPI –so that the American people, through all of you and whatever way you chose to report it, would understand we expected it to be elevated because of Putin’s invasion; because of the impact on energy prices, which they’re certainly experiencing every day.
So, I don’t have a projection on consumer spending at this point in time. Obviously, that data is taken by economists, but we wanted to provide as much information as we could assess about what we thought the data would show based on what people are already experiencing when they go to the gas pumps.
Q And then, back on the shooting, I’m wondering if you guys have an assessment of how successful these DOJ strike forces have been. Specifically, do we have a number of how many illegally transferred guns they’ve taken off the streets in those five major metro areas?
MS. PSAKI: It’s a great question. I can see if we can get an update from the Department of Justice, who obviously oversees the strike forces, in terms of what their successes have been. I know we’ve provided updates a little bit in the past, but I don’t have that information in front of me, so let me get that to you after the bri- — after (inaudible).
Q On Ukraine, please. The administration has said many times that it would help Ukraine investigate war crimes.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Can you maybe detail how is that happening without having presence on the ground? And is it maybe a plan at some stage to send U.S. personnel to collect — for example, to collect evidence and to assist Ukrainian forces?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, I don’t have any updates on that last particular part of your question. What I can tell you is that there are a couple of ways that historically we have participated in investigations, and we certainly would in this case.
Some of that is intel gathering and sharing that with our partners and allies around the world who are also contributing to investigations. Some of that is through those diplomatic channels, of course. Some of that is reporting of, frankly, the media and reporters who are in Ukraine, on the ground, who can sometimes not gather the type of data necessarily I’m talking about, but often do provide pictures and visuals. And then there is, of course, a range of means we have to work to gather information. But I can’t detail more of it from here.
Q And a last one, on the French election. I know you won’t comment on the outcome, but is the administration monitoring the process for Russian interference? And have you seen signs of it?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an assessment of it, but I think we’ve seen the Russians’ interference in elections throughout the course of recent history and before then, whether it’s here or in Europe. So, certainly, we anticipate that that could be possible. But I don’t have any confirmation of it at this point in time.
Q What is the President’s position on whether Iowa should have the first-in-the-nation presidential contest in ’24?
MS. PSAKI: There is a process being overseen by the DNC that will play out over the course of the coming days. And we certainly respect and support that process.
Q On the French election, is there a concern within the White House that if President Macron is not reelected, that it could, sort of, become an issue in the — in the bid to keep European, sort of, unity and cross-Atlantic unity in the face of the Russian invasion of Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Well, unity is obviously very important to us. Maybe the most used word in our description of our efforts and our strategy here. But, as you know, the runoff election is not for a week and a half, so we’re just not going to get ahead of that.
Q On COVID, Jen, Philadelphia is the first major city to reinstate an indoor mask mandate with this current surge. Do you guys expect other cities to follow suit? What would it take for the White House to reinstate a mask mandate on campus as well?
MS. PSAKI: It would take the CDC recommending that. I would remind you that what — every state and city is going to make evaluations and their own assessments on what they need to do to keep communities safe.
What we are guided by is the CDC guidance, which has red, green, yellow, and even impact — yellow-green, I should say. It even impacts where the President wears masks, where we wear masks. And obviously, if we go to an area where it’s recommended, we will continue to do that.
So, you know, right now, there are of course requirements in transit, but the President won’t be wearing a mask —
Q Is Philadelphia taking this step prematurely, in the White House’s view?
MS. PSAKI: It’s been our view that cities and local communities can take and should take steps that they feel will keep their community safe.
Q Can I ask you one more about ethanol? This is a — it wasn’t an emergency suspension, but this is something the Trump administration did. They allowed year-round sales of E15. It was overturned by federal court.
So, I’m just wondering — you know, the politics of this, this is something that was also supported by several Midwestern Republican senators in the Senate. So is there any fear that the Democratic base might be a little bit disillusioned by doing something that has been supported by Republicans and was done by the Trump administration, even given the circumstances with rising gas prices?
MS. PSAKI: I think our view is that people — the American people are going to put gas in their tanks, in their cars across the country, including across the Midwest where many of these 2,300 pumps are, where — that have E15 — the E15 gasoline option. And if they can pay 10 cents less a gallon, then they’ll appreciate that. I’m not sure they’re looking at that through a political lens.
Q One more on inflation, Jen. Given the consistently high numbers we keep seeing and Shanghai being in lockdown, zero-COVID, Russia’s war — I know you’re saying that the Fed is anticipating, end of year, things will ease, but how certain can we really be, given the uncertainties and these lo- — you know, COVID-zero and Russia’s war? It could last longer, right?
And would the Pres- — and would the President — obviously, the Fed is a sep- — is separate, but would he then want to not see an increase in interest rates, an increase in what the Fed is already planning for the rest of the year?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the Fed, as you noted, is independent. And they have predicted or conveyed publicly that they intend to recalibrate. We support that pivot, and we support their independence and their, you know, ability to make decisions about interest rates and other policies around inflation.
What I will say though is that how the American people experience inflation is rising costs — right? — in a variety of areas. Right? They experience it at the gas pump. They experience it when they go to the grocery store. They experience it when things cost more, whether it’s childcare or taking care of their grandparents. That’s why we have been so aggressive in pushing for the President’s agenda that would lower those costs — because they would have such a huge impact on the American people, and we feel that’s a solution.
If Republicans have an alternative to it, we welcome that. But that is a way we could cut costs.
But otherwise, to go back to your original question, we certainly respect the independence of the Federal Reserve and support their publicly stated intention of recalibrating.
1:43 P.M. EDT