James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

3:50 P.M. EDT 

MS. PSAKI:  Hi, everyone.  Okay.  A lot going on today.  All right, a couple of toppers to kick us off.  Tomorrow, the President will travel to Greensboro, North Carolina, where he will visit North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University for a tour of their new Harold L. Martin Sr. Engineering Research & Innovation Complex, which opened in February. 

North Carolina A- — A&T is the largest historically black college and university in the nation, and the largest producer of African American undergraduates in engineering and with master’s degrees in mathematics/statistics and engineering in the country.

N.C. A&T is also the alma mater of EPA Administrator Michael Regan and two of the President’s recent appointees to his Board of Advisors on HBCUs. 

Since January of 2021, President Biden and members of his Cabinet have prioritized visits to HBCU campuses across the nation, and the Biden-Harris administration has invested an unprecedented $5.8 billion in these critical institutions with more to come this year.

The President will meet faculty and students who are studying robotics and cybersecurity, and he’ll talk about how investments in the Bipartisan Innovation Act can help build on the remarkable progress we’ve made over the last year in getting our economy back on its feet through the American Rescue Plan and in laying a foundation for an economic renewal that’s made in America through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Throughout his visit, the President will highlight the domestic manufacturing strategy and regional investments in areas such as advanced manufacturing and clean technology.  He will discuss how Greensboro’s economy and educational institutions are reinventing themselves for legacy industries to 21st century industries and will benefit from the passage of the Bipartisan Innovation Act, which will make historic investments in R&D, innovation, and manufacturing in America. 

That means stronger supply chains, more manufacturing jobs, and lower prices for consumers as we break up the bottlenecks, like semiconductor chips, that have driven inflation over the last year. 

Four hundred and seventy-three thousand manufacturing jobs have already been created on the President’s watch.  He wants to build on that success by passing the Bipartisan Innovation Act to create — to create more good-paying jobs and lower prices for working families.

I also wanted to note that today, during Black Maternal Health Week, Vice President Kamala Harris will convene a first-ever White House meeting with Cabinet Secretaries and agency leaders to discuss the administration’s whole-of-government approach to reducing maternal mortality and morbidity. 

In December of 2021, Vice President Harris announced a historic call to action to improve health outcomes for parents and their young children in the United States.  Today, the administration is making additional announcements as part of our continued response to that call to action. 

The announcements include 11 states and the District of Columbia working with Centers — the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to expand Medicaid coverage, through the American Rescue Plan, from 2 months to 12 months following a pregnancy.

CMS’s “birthing-friendly” hospital designation, which would assist families in choosing hospitals that have demonstrated a commitment to maternal health, will go live with initial quality measures in fall of 2022. 

Final piece, and then we’ll get to your questions.  Since before taking office, the President and his team has — have made finding highly qualified judicial nominees who are devoted to the rule of law and our Constitution, and who ensure that the federal bench more fully represents our country — a critical priority.

Last week, you all saw the Senate’s bipartisan, history-making confirmation of soon-to-be-Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson — a judge with the strongest credentials imaginable — with the backing of law enforcement and many of the most respected retired conservative jurists in the country, and who earned some of the strongest public support of any Supreme Court nominee in recent American history, tying Chief Justice Roberts during his confirmation.

This morning, the President announced his first round of judicial nominees since Judge Jackson’s confirmation, bringing the total number of nominees he has put forward, including Judge Jackson, to 90.

A number of these picks, if confirmed, would also make history.

For example, Judge John Lee would be the first Asian American judge to ever serve on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.  And Nancy Maldonado would be the first Hispanic woman to serve as a federal judge in Illinois.

The President is very proud of all of the nominees he has announced in office — 72 percent of whom are women, 30 percent of whom are Black, 21 percent of whom are Hispanic, and 19 percent of whom are from the AAPI — -PI community. 

With that, let’s get to your questions.  I’ll promise to reduce the toppers next time.  That’s my deal. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks.  On the President calling what’s going on in Ukraine “genocide,” what changed?  What did the President see, what did he hear in the days between saying they were simply “war crimes” and then this is actual “genocide”?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, he called it a “genocide” yesterday — not once, but twice, actually — because, as he said yesterday, it’s becoming clearer and clearer each day that it is Putin’s aim to wipe out the idea of being Ukrainian; that we’re seeing greater brutality increase day by day.

And some of that, I will note, is because we’re seeing — we’re gaining greater access to areas, we have more intelligence on what’s happening in areas, leaders are speaking out more about it, and, frankly, there is also reporting about what is happening on the ground.

But to give you some specifics, I would not that, of course, what we saw in Bucha was not an anomaly, as Ukrainian forces searched towns that Russian forces previously occupied, as they’re pulling back and moving to the east.

The mayor and the City Council of Mariupol are reporting high numbers of civilian casualties.  The train station attack just over the weekend killed more than 50 civilians.  The U.N. has recently recorded 4,450 civilian casualties, all just since February 24th.  And the real number, we believe, is likely much higher. 

The OSCE’s Moscow Mechanism report today found clear patterns of international humanitarian law violations by Russian forces, by targeting hospitals, schools, residential buildings, and other locations where civilians are sheltering.

And we’ve also seen, I think, from the beginning of this, Kremlin rhetoric and Russian media deny the national identity of the Ukrainian people.  And the Kremlin has launched a full-scale assault on the sovereignty of the Ukrainian state and its people. 

So the President was speaking to what we all see, what he feels is clear as day in terms of the atrocities happening on the ground.  As he also noted yesterday, of course there will be a legal process that plays out in the courtroom, but he was speaking to what he see — has seen on the ground and what we’ve all seen in terms of the atrocities on the ground.

Q    And as a follow-up: Might he call on Germany to impose a natural gas ban, given that — given what you said?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we’ve been in ongoing discussions with our European partners, including Germany, but it is a decision they will make, and the President certainly supports their right to do exactly that.

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  A question about the President’s conversation today —

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

Q    — with President Zelenskyy.  Did they talk about possibly moving U.S. diplomats back into Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have more details of that.  I will tell you that our objective is to do exactly that.  And we, of course, assess, in a process that’s led by the State Department, security considerations, who the right personnel to go back first would be.  And that certainly is something the President would like to see.  But I’m not aware of him providing an update on that today.

Q    Also, President Zelenskyy tweeted that he and the President — President Biden — agreed to, quote, “enhanced sanctions.”  What does that mean?

MS. PSAKI:  Additional sanctions.  The consideration of additional sanctions.  And that’s certainly something we’re continuing to consider, and the President conveyed that as well.

Q    And then back to the question about genocide.  Last week, Jake Sullivan was here at this podium, and he said, “We have not yet seen a level of systematic deprivation of life of the Ukrainian people to rise to the level of genocide.” 

So is it now the White House position that you have actually seen a level of systematic deprivation that would qualify as genocide?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the President spoke to that twice yesterday.  And, of course, he’s the President, and we are here to implement his views.

Q    And then, finally, has the U.S. or any nongovernmental partner had any ability to assess with any greater certainty that any kind of chemical or nerve agent was actually used in Mariupol?

MS. PSAKI:  We don’t have any update on that at this point in time.

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  Following up on Nancy’s question, did anyone know that the President was going to use the word “genocide” in his remarks?  It seemed like a passing remark — or a passing reference in a broader conversation about inflation. 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, it’s — he’s the President of the United States and the leader of the free world, and he is allowed to make his views known at any point he would like.

Q    So it was not scripted?  That wasn’t pre-planned?

MS. PSAKI:  Again, I think we shouldn’t misunderstand who he is and where he stands on the totem pole, which is at the top.

Q    Okay.  And then, on the call today, can you clarify one other thing?  There’s been some reporting that the helicopters were not going to be part of the package, and then they went back into the package.  Can you clarify if the call with Zelenskyy was the item — was the thing that put those helicopters back in the package?

MS. PSAKI:  So, on this — I know there’s been some different reporting and confusion, so I appreciate you asking.  We are, of course, in constant conversations with the Ukrainians, as is evidenced by this morning and the two-hour call that Chairman Milley and Jake Sullivan had last week on what they need and how we can be helpful.

It was unclear for a while, from their side, whether they wanted additional helicopters.  We’ve provided them helicopters in the past.  And today they made clear they wanted them in, so we said, “Great.  There are helicopters in the package.”

Q    And then, the first bus of migrants arrived in D.C. today.  Texas Governor Greg Abbott making good on his promise to send migrants to the President’s doorstep.  I think you previously called it a publicity stunt.  Is that still the view of the White House?  Can you give us any reaction to this busload of migrants arriving here in D.C.?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, these are all migrants who have been processed by CBP and are free to travel.  So, it’s nice the state of Texas is helping them get to their final destination as they await in — their outcome of their immigration proceedings.  And they’re all in immigration proceedings.

Q    And then, on your statement this morning, you had mentioned in that statement that the truck inspections have led — that Governor Abbott has been conducting — have led to disruptions for the food and automobile supply chains and rising prices for families.  So is the White House blaming Greg Abbott for inflation?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think we’re trying to state the facts of what his — another political stunt that we’re seeing happen and the impact of it. 

And what we’re seeing is: Right now, factually, there’s over $1 million in trade crossing over the U.S.-Mexico border every minute.  These actions are impacting people’s jobs and the livelihoods of hardworking families in Texas and across the country.  That’s not a political statement; that’s a statement of fact.

I’d also note that what we’re seeing with these unnecessary inspections of trucks transpor- — transiting ports of entry between Texas and Mexico are significant delays, which are resulting in a drop in commercial traffic of up to 60 to 70 percent in some ports.  And that is significantly impacting the local and regional supply chains to the point that trade associations, officials, and businesses are calling for the Texas governor to reverse their self- — this self-inflicted gridlock.

I’d also note that CBP officers are very good at their jobs, and Texas DPS does not need to replace CBP at the southern border.  CBP has conducted a record number of drug seizures, with more than 900,000 pounds of narcotics seized just in FY 2021.

So the economic impact here — something that people of all political stripes are calling for a reversal of — is something that we think is significant and we felt should be shouted out.

Q    And then, last one, does the White House still view inflation as transitory?

MS. PSAKI:  That is the view of the Federal Reserve and outside economists, and they all continue to project it will come down this year.

Go ahead.

Q    Yeah, Jen.  Just to make sure we’re clear, first of all, on the question of genocide: So I know sometimes, in the past, the President has expressed his own opinion about issues; it’s not necessarily been U.S. policy.  So is it the U.S. policy that genocide is being committed in Ukraine, or was that the President’s personal beliefs?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, there is a legal process, as the President said yesterday, that will be — will g- — will be undergone and will happen.  And he wasn’t getting ahead of that, he was speaking to what we feel — he feels we see on the ground.  

But regardless of what you call it, what our objective now, as is evidenced by the enormous package of military assistance we put out today, is continue to help and assist the Ukrainians in this war and — one where we see atrocities happening every single day.

Q    Is there any concern, though, that the President’s views on things differing from what the actual policy is once it’s gone through all those legal channels, that that could be confusing to world leaders when the President is saying one thing but the policy isn’t necessarily there yet?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, how would it impact that — the outcome?

Q    Yeah, well, I mean, once there’s a genocide being committed in a region, other countries would treat that in a certain way, if that’s —

MS. PSAKI:  In what way?

Q    — indeed the policy.

I guess, as far as the way leaders would try — you know, decide how they’re going to respond to that.  So — and, I don’t know — maybe you feel–

MS. PSAKI:  Well, typically, a consideration of genocide takes years.  I mean, look at — there are many past examples.  And if you look at even Uyghurs — right? — and what we’ve called out happening in China, that took many years to call out.  That hasn’t meant we’ve provided a range of military assistance.  What we are doing now is we’re trying to prop up and support Ukrainian leaders.  There are other — and the military, of course.

There are other leaders who have — in the world who have said something similar to what the President has said recently, because they’re also seeing the atrocities on the ground.  I don’t — I don’t know that it’s changed policy or confused anyone.  I think they’re speaking all from what they are seeing with their own eyes as we look at the visuals of what’s happening on the ground.

Q    All right.  So you don’t (inaudible) there. 

And then just a quick follow-up from a topic from last week.  Following the President’s exposure to House Speaker Pelosi, did he ever receive any post-exposure prophylaxis, like monoclonal antibodies, which are approved from FDA in certain circumstances for people who’ve been exposed to COVID?

MS. PSAKI:  If you’re immunocompromised?

Q    Immunocompromised, people at high risk.

MS. PSAKI:  He’s not.

Q    Yeah.

MS. PSAKI:  He’s not immunocompromised, so no. 

Q    Right.  So he — okay.  So he did not receive any — any treatments after the exposure?

MS. PSAKI:  He’s not immunocompromised. 

Q    Okay.  

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  Earlier today, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said countries that are currently sitting on the fence amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine risk facing isolation from the global economy.  Were those comments aimed at any specific countries?  And can you speak to whether the administration is considering secondary sanctions on countries that do not comply with the restrictions the administration has imposed on Russia thus far?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think, certainly, we consider a range of options if countries don’t abide by the sanctions we’ve implemented.  Right?  And that is something we certainly will continue to watch. 

I don’t have any projections of that, fortunately, at this point in time.

I think she was speaking to what we’ve said from here a number of times, which is that in this moment — where you have a dictator brutally invading another country, targeting civilians — you have to contemplate what side of history you want to be on.  And that is true for any country around the world. 

Q    And then a follow-up on COVID.  Is the administration concerned that COVID data is not picking up many cases that are confirmed by home tests, especially amid this uptick caused by the BA.2 variant?  And will there be a public education campaign to push people to report their positive results?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we do certainly encouraged people in many ways to — to share test results and contact their doctor because they may be eligible for Paxlovid or other therapeutics if they test positive.  We also know that — that a number of people who test positive are at home — just recovering at home. 

So we’re certainly encouraging people to do that.  But what I would note is that what the CDC continues to track very closely are cases that are reported and they — where they’ve seen severe disease, hospitalizations, and deaths.  And those reports are coming directly from hospitals and states.  And what we’re seeing from those reports are the lowest levels of hospitalization since the start of the pandemic. 

So we certainly encourage people to report.  Anyone who lives in this area knows — or if you have apps on your phone, you often get apps about — or alerts about close contacts or if you’ve been near people, or calls from, you know, your county health — health people if there are reports in your neighborhood. 

We encourage people to do that.  But our focus, as the CDC has conveyed over the course of last week is — is really on severe disease, hospitalizations, and deaths — what we can do to reduce those. 

We’re fortunately seeing lower numbers, even as we’ve seen an uptick in cases. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks.  I spoke to former NSC Chairman Robert O’Brien on Friday.  He says most Republicans and most, if not all, Democrats are on board with the current Russian sanctions.  However, he had two criticisms.  He said that, one, planes should be provided to Ukraine and, two, that full sanctions should be implemented against Russia and Putin immediately.  Your thoughts in response to that?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have a direct response to Robert O’Brien.  What I can tell you — or — and I’m sure he’s aware of this — or maybe not, I don’t know — that we have — we have implemented a more significant and crippling sanctions package — financial sanctions package than has ever been done on any large economy in history.  So I would I would certainly point to that.

In terms of his view — as a private citizen, I guess, at this point — on planes, we’ve spoken to that in the past: If other countries want to provide planes, we’re not standing in the way.  We’ve made an assessment about what the Ukrainian military needs and what they are trained on to use and what would be effective in — in the transport of it.  That continues to be our assessment.  

Q    I notice that the helicopters were on the table.  Are U.S. warplanes provided to Ukraine or even the MiGs from Warsaw, from Poland — are they off the table completely?

MS. PSAKI:  We’ve never said they were off the table.  What we’ve said is that we had concerns about the Polish proposal about how they would be transported.  And our military made an assessment about that — a risk assessment — about the benefits and the risk.  That assessment hasn’t changed.  We’ve provided helicopters in the past.

Q    So is there any way —

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.

Q    — around that?  Is there — are —

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any more updates for you.

Go ahead.

Q    One more question on Ukraine.  After President Biden said he does believe that Russia is committing genocide, the French President came out and said that — he warned against an escalation of rhetoric.  Do you have any response to Macron?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t.

Q    Okay.

On COVID and this extension — this two-week extension of masking on public transportation: Can you help us understand some of the science behind this?  Why two weeks?

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

Q    What difference can be made in such a short amount of time?

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Well, this assessment was made — I know there was a statement that was put out by the CDC and certainly I would point you to that, but as they’re continuing to monitor the spread of — of BA.2 — the BA.2 subvariant, which now makes up more than 85 percent of U.S. cases, what they’re looking at is that since early April, there’s been an increase in the seven-day moving average of the cases in the United States. 

So what they’re trying to do is give a little bit more time to assess its potential impact the rise of the cases have on severe disease, including hospitalizations and deaths and the healthcare system capacity.

And their assessment, from a medical standpoint — the data — data-gathering standpoint is that two weeks would give them some additional time to do that. 

Now, at the end of that two weeks, they can determine what’s next after that.  But — but that — that assessment they made so that they could gather more data of the rise of the subvariant.

Q    So should we then expect and should the public expect, sort of, more of these kind of short-term extensions?

MS. PSAKI:  It’s a good question.  I just don’t want to make a prediction of that.  I think it depends on how they evaluate and assess the — the data over the course of the next two weeks.  And they’re trying to provide regular, transparent updates to the public.  

Q    And it does seem that the President has been tested every two or three days for the past week or so.  Any update on whether he was tested today?

MS. PSAKI:  I can check and see if there’s an update and get that to all of you.  He does have a regular testing cadence, of course, that is determined by his doctor, and it’s typically a couple times a week.  

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you.  A quick follow-up on the issue of the genocide designation.  I think you just said that a legal process would be undergone, but I think the State Department spokesman, Ned Price, just said that it was — the U.S. government is contributing to the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Offices inquiry into whether Russia has committed genocide in Ukraine but had not initiated its own.

MS. PSAKI:  So I appreciate your opportunity to rephrase: It would require a legal process.  As the President said yesterday, he’s not trying to prejudge a legal process.  He was speaking to the atrocities he saw on the ground.

Q    And why not?  Why wouldn’t the U.S. initiate its own, you know, inquiry into that issue?

MS. PSAKI:  It’s a determination, again, made by the State Department and others who are — lead these efforts.  And, certainly, it’s one we will continue to assess.

Q    Okay.  And just a quick one on the issue with Greg Abbott.  Is the White House planning to do anything to alleviate the supply chain disruptions or pressure him into rescinding the order?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, obviously, our preference is that he rescinds the order.  And it’s not just our preference; it’s the preference of a number of trade associations, officials, business leaders, and others who are seeing a direct impact on commerce and on the economy and on business in the community.

So, beyond that, I think our effort today was to highlight what the impact is and how this is not a step that is — that is an immigration policy or addressing root issues at the border.  This is one that is hurting — is having a negative economic impact on people who work and live in that community and the over $1 million in trade crossing over the border every day.

Go ahead.

Q    Jen, three times now the President has made comments about the war that the White House or he himself subsequently said did not reflect U.S. policy or a legal determination when he said Putin is a “war criminal,” when he said that Putin “cannot remain in power,” and, of course, his comment about this being “genocide” in Ukraine.  Does this not send a signal to the world that there kind of is an asterisk any — next to anything that the President says?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, when the President ran, he promised the American people he would “shoot from the shoulder” — is his phrase that he often uses — and “tell it to them straight.”  And his comments yesterday — not once, but twice — and on war crimes are an exact reflection of that.  

I don’t think anybody is confused about the atrocities of what we’re seeing on the ground, the horrors of what we’re seeing on the ground.  And different leaders around the world describe it in different ways.  But what we’re — there is — what is unquestionable is what we’re seeing is horrific: the targeting of civilians, of hospitals, of — of even kids.  And it — the President was calling it like he see — like he sees it, and that’s what he does. 

Q    If I could ask it this way: Do you think that there is any danger to global leaders — including Vladimir Putin to Olaf Scholz — if they can’t be sure when they hear words coming out of the President’s mouth whether he is stating a personal opinion versus making a statement about U.S. policy?

MS. PSAKI:  Do you have an example of somebody who’s confused, a leader?

Q    Well, I think my colleague brought up Emmanuel Macron saying — responding and saying, you know, the use of the language, “genocide,” he sees as rhetorical escalation.

MS. PSAKI:  President Putin is brutally targeting civilians and brutalizing a country right now.  So, the President — this President — was speaking to what those atrocities are and what he’s seeing on the ground.  

A number of other leaders have done exactly that.  It does not change policy in the sense that we’ve seen these atrocities, unfortunately, for weeks now.  And we’re going to see more as Russia pulls back from parts of the country. 

So what our focus will continue to be and the focus of leaders around the world is to continue to escalate our military assistance, our security assistance, as we did today in providing a range of — of weapons that we have not even provided to them in the past.  And that, I think, is what the Ukrainians are most focused on and I think the global community is most focused on: how we’re responding and how we’re helping them.

Q    Could you explain — so, if the U.S. were to legally determine that what is happening in Ukraine is genocide, what would the sort of legal obligations from the United States be at that point?

MS. PSAKI:  It doesn’t change a policy.  There would be an international effort to explore that and an investigation at an international level.  Those often take many years.

Q    And nothing has changed in terms of the President not wanting to send in U.S. troops to Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI:  Correct.  Nothing has changed.

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you so much, Jen.  Two questions; one on policing.  In Grand Rapids, Michigan, police just released the tape of a individual who was shot and killed by police.  I understand that just happened while you were on the podium —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    — so you have not seen it yet, but I wanted to see if you believe the President will watch that.  And if the — the  NAACP is now calling on the President to sign the policing executive order.  Is there any update that you can provide about that?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, on the last piece, the President absolutely wants to do exactly that.  And it has to go through — it just takes some time to go through a process.  But his intention is absolutely to sign a policing executive order into — into law — or not into law, but sign it with his authorities.

I would note that what we have tried to do from this administration, even while there was a stall in bipartisan action in the Senate, is to take actions we can with the authorities we have, like the Department of Justice banning chokeholds or other steps they’ve taken with authority they have to address it at the federal level.

I have — I’ve not seen the video — thank you for prefacing that.  I’ve not seen it yet.  I don’t have a prediction of if the President will watch it.  I assume it is something that will be covered on television, and I can check and see if there’s an update for you.

Q    And then I just had a follow-up to MJ’s question.

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

Q    When you’re talking about the President sort of — you know, and I should preface this by saying that, you know, the world and we are all still getting to know this President; he has been around for a while, but we have not seen him in the role as President for a while.  And so, can you tell us when should we interpret his words as his reaction versus U.S. policy?

MS. PSAKI:  He’s the President of the United States.  He speaks for the United States.  There’s also a legal review and process that is important to take place in the case of genocide or war crimes.  So, we’re trying to provide as much information on that as possible.

Q    But is there — are there any, like, tips that you can provide or any sort of, you know, any — any, like, giveaways that this is the President talking about what he’s seeing and his reaction as a human versus, you know, “The United States government is now going to do X, Y, and Z, because I have determined this is…” —

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think what’s important to understand is that determination, or whatever you label it, doesn’t change policy.  It change — what we are doing right now, in terms of the amount of security assistance we’re providing, including the new package today, goes far beyond what we have done in many cases where there — we have called it genocide. 

So, there is not a direct trigger in that way.  And if that’s helpful clarity for anybody, I’m happy to provide it.  But he is the President.  He speaks for what our policy is.  And I would take his words for exactly what they are. 

Go ahead.

Q    Jen, earlier today, Ukraine’s President, Zelenskyy, said after the call that they agreed to, quote, “enhance sanctions.” 

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

Q    That’s something that did not come up thus far from you or from the President.  Can you give us any guidance on what those enhanced sanctions mean?  What does that mean?

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  So, someone may have asked this earlier, which is, of course, fine.  What he was referring to and the President agreed: Yes, we’re continuing to consider a range of sanctions, a range of ways to hold President Putin, his circle, the economy — you know, the financial sector accountable.  There will be more to come.  But that was part of their discussion today, yes.

Q    But there’s no new specific sanctions you are all —

MS. PSAKI:  Not today.  No, they just had the discussion.  There wasn’t — there’s no new announcement today.

Q    Okay.  And then are there any — or is there — has there been any increased conversation at all, in terms of doing anything around the carve-out, specifically on sanctions on energy?  (Inaudible) continued carve-outs on energy? (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI:  We haven’t taken anything off the table, as you know, but I don’t have any update on that at this point in time. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  Just one on Texas.  Right before you came out, Governor Abbott announced that they’re halting some inspections on that side of the border and said there’ll be some inspections conducted in Nuevo Laredo — the Mexican state that borders Texas.  I don’t know if you had seen that or wanted to have a chance to respond to it.

MS. PSAKI:  Not yet.  And I don’t have an assessment on the impact.  But I think the overarching view from not just us but, again, trade associations, officials, and businesses is that these are unnecessary inspections and that they are impacting the economy. 

I don’t — I don’t know how to — I can’t gauge from here what the economic impact will be, but I’m happy to take a look at that or have our economic team take a look at that.  Sure.

Go ahead, Patsy.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  So, I’m going to try again on the G20.

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.

Q    President Biden has indicated that he wants Russia to not participate in the G20. 

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    We know that.  We also know that he said that the forum cannot be business as usual.  However, I’m hearing from G20 diplomatic sources that they feel that it’s unfair to have the issue of Ukraine really overtake the forum, which has an economic mandate.  And it does have economic goals, including pandemic recovery, sustainable economic development, and so on. 

So my question is: Is the U.S. still willing to work with G20 partners to ensure that these goals are met and that the summit is salvaged?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the summit is in seven months.  Am I correct? 

Q    Yes.

MS. PSAKI:  Okay, so that’s a lifetime.  (Laughter.)

Q    But, I mean, it takes a lot of — it takes a lot of months for the host country to prepare.

MS. PSAKI:  That is a lifetime in diplomacy, though, I will say.  And it is not uncommon for events that are impacting the global community, as Ukraine is and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, to play a central role at international forum.  And their economic recovery and rebuilding and reconstruction is going to be something that the global community is going to be involved in and address.

But I don’t — the agenda has not been set.  I don’t — I don’t think we know at this point how dominant Ukraine will be or not be.  It depends, I’m sure, on where things stand at that point in the world.

Q    Well, the agenda hasn’t been set, but the presidency has already set these three main pillars, and they have nothing to do with Ukraine or Russia.  So, I guess, what would be the administration’s response to these criticism that say inviting — sorry — disinviting Russia or including Ukraine as an observer really just disrupts the summit’s agenda, as well as divide or create a rift among members?

MS. PSAKI:  I think I would say that Russia and President Putin have shown himself and themselves to be a pariah in the world.  And the President’s view is that he has no place at international forum. 

The inclusion of Ukraine does not mean it’s only about the battle on the ground.  We’re going to need to rebuild Ukraine.  Ukraine is a — has just applied for EU membership.  I’m not — I can’t determine for you what that will look like in the final stages, but there’s a lot of topics that can be discussed.  And Russia’s actions and President Putin’s actions make them a country and a leader that the President does not feel should participate in an international fora.

Q    Thank you.  And one question on China.  So, U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Tai said in a recent interview that, in the long term, the China trade challenge will actually “eclipse” the crisis in Russia today.  

So, is the administration concerned that the war in Ukraine takes away your focus and resources to meet the challenges from China?

MS. PSAKI:  We’re not.  I mean, how the U.S. government is set up, as you know, is that we have experts and — in every area — right? — working simultaneously at the same time.

Yes, the war in Ukraine is a big issue that we’re very focused on, this President is very focused on.  There is an entire team focused on Asia at the State Department, the Defense Department, the national security team, every single day, that is not involved in that war.  So I would — can assure you and assure everybody that we are able to walk, chew gum, and do multiple layers of diplomacy at the same time.

(Cellphone disruption.)

Q    Thank you so much, Jen.  On the genocide in —

MS. PSAKI:  Is that a GPS direction?  I appreci- — (laughter).  Is it?

Q    I’m so sorry.  

MS. PSAKI:  It’s okay.  I need directions everywhere, so I appreciate it.

Go ahead.  

Q    On the genocide, again, the — you know, European diplomats and officials we’re talking to are saying this escalation of words has an impact because — (cellphone disruption) — because it — it makes the prospect of future peace talks with Vladimir Putin very difficult or impossible. 

So is the President, by using such words, conveying the idea that there will never be any possible talks with Putin, and that the only way the war can end is, you know, military capitulation?

MS. PSAKI:  No.  And I would just dispute that argument or that notion.  Peace talks is something we’re always going to support — the President, the Secretary of State, our National Security Advisor are always going to support.  And we support the Ukrainians in that effort. 

I think it’s unlikely that — that President Putin is moved — is going to decide not to participate in peace talks because of some words that came out of the mouth of the President of the United States.  He’s going to decide to participate in them if it’s in his interests. 

Go ahead. 

Q    Yeah, the producer price index on inflation came out at the highest level that they’ve had in the history of recording these events.  This is the price that companies are paying for the materials that they need to make the stuff that they sell, right?  So, with the last two days — the inflation reports — does the White House believe that inflation has now peaked and we’re coming back down?  Or because of these reports, do you think we’re going to see even worse numbers in the future?

MS. PSAKI:  We’ll let the Federal Reserve make projections about that; they have the purview over those projections. 

What I will say is that while we — and we talked about this over the last couple of days, as it relates to the CPI data — consumer price index — as opposed to producer price index, for others — and what we saw: While energy accounted for 70 percent of the monthly inflation in March on CPI data, it counted for a substantial portion of PPI inflation as well. 

And PPI measures things like the cost of wood, metal, plastics — kind of, materials like that.  So it’s not necessarily — it’s not a surprise to us that energy is having an impact — is a driver of these numbers.  

Obviously, what we’re trying to do is mitigate the energy impact and take steps to do exactly that: release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and other actions working to get more supply out into the marketplace.  

But, you know, again, projections of a — of when we’re hitting a high and where it will look, we will leave that to the Federal Reserve. 

Q    And one last one.  So, does the President then acknowledge any responsibility for the inflation that we’re seeing now based on the decisions that he’s made when he came into office?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say, as the President has talked about quite a bit, there are a range of factors, including the pandemic, the impact on the supply chains. 

And our effort and what we’ve tried to do from the beginning is take steps to address that — address the supply chains.  And we’ve had a lot of success moving more equipment and goods, through — through ports, et cetera.  

We’ve also seen, given energy is such a significant driver of this data, an increase in energy prices over the last month-plus — since the invasion of Ukraine.  That’s factual.  That’s based on data that we have seen out there.  

So, our effort and our focus has been to try to address it and take mitigation measures when we can.

Q    But does he take responsibility for his decisions?  Like some say the American Rescue Plan boosted demand when it didn’t need to.  Larry Summers was one of those. 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the alternative would have been that we would have gone into a massive economic downward spiral and many Americans would have not had enough food to put on the table.  So we chose the other path.  

Go ahead. 

Q    Thanks, Jen.  Senator Schumer, at a virtual event on student debt today, said that he’s talked personally to the President, quote, “a whole bunch of times.”  And talking about canceling student debt, he said, “We’re making progress, folks.  We are making progress.  The White House seems more open to it than ever before.”  Has the President had conversations with Senator Schumer?  And is he, you know, moving on this issue where he’s more open to the idea of canceling —

MS. PSAKI:  The President has always been happy to sign a bill into law, passed by Congress, that would cancel $10,000 in student debt.  There hasn’t been any decision made about other executive actions.

Q    But has he shifted, at all, his thinking?  Is he, you know, open to — to signing —

MS. PSAKI:  He’s always been happy to sign a law into — a bill into law that canceled student debt.  That hasn’t changed.

Go ahead. 

Q    Thank you, Jen.  The whole world against the Russian aggression in Ukraine — other than the few countries — like a few countries like Bangladesh.  Bangladesh Prime Minister recently told in the — at the parliament those — though this parliament is not mandated by the people.  She told that — that “Russia stood by us in our bad time, and we are surely beside the country” — besides the Russia.  And she blamed USA not to help during the Liberation War in 1971.  So what is your comment about this authoritarian prime minister’s remarks in the parliament?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any spef- — specific response to the Prime Minister.  I would just say that what we’re doing is encouraging every country to think hard about what side they’re going to be on history. 

Q    Thanks, Jen.  There was a new poll out today that showed the President’s approval rating is still in the low 40s and that voters are still concerned about the economy.  Is the White House seeing this as a sign that their message on the increased job numbers and all the infrastructure funding isn’t getting through?  I mean, the President has said he wants to see his accomplishments being sold.  Is he satisfied that’s being done?  Or is there talk of a pivot in messaging?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say, we understand some realities happening right now, including the fact that there is a war happening in Europe, and that is dominating the airwaves, which we understand and fully expect.  And so, the President has actually done a number of events on the economy in recent days and weeks and will continue to. 

But our view is: While the world needs to understand and see how he is — he is leading on the war, we also — the world also needs to see — or the country needs to see, I guess I should say, how he is continuing to lead on the economy.  

And I don’t know that that’s a shift or requiring a shift; it’s just a recognition that being able to continue to speak to domestic — our domestic audience about that is a huge priority.  And his schedule tells the story of how much of a priority it is.

Go ahead. 

Q    Hey, yeah.  I wanted to ask about the migrants that arrived today from Texas.  These are Venezuelan and Nicaraguan migrants who have applied for asylum in the U.S.  Has the administration been in touch with these migrants or with the organizations that are assisting them, such as the Catholic Charities?

MS. PSAKI:  The migrants who are — have traveled on the bus from —

Q    Yes. 

MS. PSAKI:  — from Texas?  Well, they’re all in immigration proceedings — those who traveled on the bus.  And so, certainly, that would mean they’re in touch with the appropriate entities and the federal government about that process.  But beyond that, I don’t have any other updates.

Q    So nothing to — you have not been in touch with them to make sure that their rights are respected —

MS. PSAKI:  Well, that, of course —

Q    — in this process? 

MS. PSAKI:  — certainly is of vital importance to us.  And as we’ve stated many times from here, nobody can forcibly be put on a bus.  They would have to voluntarily be put on the bus.  And if there are concerns about that, we would expect they would contact appropriate authorities.

Q    And even if these migrants wanted to get out of Texas, do you find it troubling that the Texas government — governor used them as props to make a political point to the White House?  Do you worry that this might reinforce the narrative that profiles undocumented people as criminal or criminals who are bad people?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I said — called it the other day a “publicity stunt” by Governor Abbott, and made clear that immigration policy and law is overseen by the federal government, not state governments.  So, I think I spoke to that the other day pretty clearly.  

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  Since you mentioned a team focused on Asia earlier, I have several Asia questions. 

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  

Q    There have been reports out of Japan that the U.S., UK, and Australia have informally asked Japan to become part of AUKUS in the areas of emerging and disruptive technologies.  But, yesterday, the Pentagon said they cannot confirm this.  And also, the Japanese government itself has also now denied these — this news.  But can you just put this potential “JAUKUS” or “AUKUS-plus-J” rumor —

MS. PSAKI:  JAUKUS, that’s quite a name.  (Laughter.)  I’m not sure about that.  

Q    — to rest?  Can you just put this to rest? 

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.  So, I can.  The reporting is inaccurate — or the new original reporting, I should say —

Q    Yes.  

MS. PSAKI:  — is inaccurate.   And as you noted, the Chief Cabinet Secretary of Japan has himself said it’s not true.  

And our focus has been on finalizing a trilateral program of work on a range of advanced military capabilities that align our priorities, amplify our collective strengths, and accelerate the development and acquisition of leading-edge defense capabilities, but it is not a JAUKUS plan. (Laughter.)

Q    And another Japan question, if I may. 

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah. 

Q    Yesterday, some Japanese media outlets reported that arrangements were underway for a Quad summit on May 24th, just as President Biden had alluded on Monday, and that there were plans being made for a bilateral with Prime Minister Kishida the day before, on May 23rd.  Is there any part of President’s travel schedule that you can confirm yet, including a potential trip to South Korea before or after the Japan trip?

MS. PSAKI:  Not quite yet. 

Q    Okay. 

MS. PSAKI:  I will tell you that, you know, of course, the President talked about how he looks forward to traveling to Tokyo in the spring, including for the Quad meeting.  And hopefully, we’ll have more to detail for all of you soon.  

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks a lot, Jen.  I just wanted to a few Ukraine questions —

MS. PSAKI:  Sure. 

Q    — if I may.  A clarification first: Your list of weaponry that you put up on the screen at the beginning of the briefing — you had 11 Mi-17 helicopters.  Generally, there are two versions of that helicopter; one is a transport version, and the other one is an armed gunship.  Which version are you supplying to Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m happy to get greater clarity from the Department of Defense.  Obviously, because of the earlier questions you noted, it was, “Do they want them?  Do they not want them?”  They were just added back in, so we’ll see if there’s more detail.

Q    Thank you.  And then, on sanctions: When I hear the possibility of more sanctions being brought against the Russian government, perhaps individuals in Russia, I’m just a little confused that you haven’t thrown everything at Russia already.  What — what’s left?  And why haven’t you thrown everything at Russia already, in terms of sanctions?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, there are always — there’s always more that can be done on the sanctions front: additional financial institutions.  There’s always secondary sanctions.  There’s a range of steps that can be taken.  

We have already done, to date, as I noted a little bit earlier, the most significant and crippling sanctions package that has ever been done to a modern — like, a big economy, ever in history.

So there’s processes that you have to go through to consider, to evaluate the impact on the global economy, on our economy, whether steps — and the assessment of that.  And that’s ongoing for additional options.

Q    And then, one final one.  On a no-fly zone — possibility of a no-fly zone being imposed by NATO — sometimes, spokespeople like you, Jen, you say, “All options are on the table.”  Is that an option that is ever going to be on the table?

MS. PSAKI:  We have — we have never conveyed from our end that it should be on the table.

Thank you.

Q    Jen?

MS. PSAKI:  Oh, go ahead.  Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Jen.

Q    Jen?

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.

Q    I would like to ask you about the pandemic.  But, first of all, I know we’ve had report that you may be leaving soon.  How would you like to be remembered as a White House Press Secretary?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, one day, I will not be here, either to spend time with my kids or because the President fires me — hopefully not the latter.  At that point, I’m sure I can reflect on that.

Q    And then, the WHO — the WHO D.G. said today at the press briefing that the way the West — the world is treating the crisis in Ukraine and the crisis in Yemen, in Ethiopia, and elsewhere seems to be different.  Is he wrong?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t know more context of —

Q    In terms of refugees, the way, like — you know, I’ve asked you many times, “Why don’t you grant TPS to refugees from Cameroon or from Ethiopia?” 

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Okay.  That’s helpful clarity on your question.  That’s a — that’s a process that is overseen by the Department of Homeland Security, and an assessment is made through that — through that process.  So, I don’t have any updates for you on that.

Q    And I know you keep saying that, but are you not supposed to lead the way?  Like, these are people who are suffering.  Ethiopia is unstable.  Tens of thousands of people have been dying — have died.

MS. PSAKI:  And we —

Q    Millions of people have been displaced.

MS. PSAKI:  And we have spoken to that a number of times from here, from the State Department, from Defense Department.  All I’m conveying to you is that there are processes that happen through the interagency, and I don’t have an update on the status of TPS designation. 

Thanks, everyone, so much.  All right.

4:33 P.M. EDT

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