James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

4:07 P.M. EDT     

(The Easter Bunny enters the room and stands at the podium.)

MS. PSAKI:  Who knows who’s under here?  (Laughter.)  No more bunny business. 

(The Easter Bunny leaves the podium.)

That’s the line we worked on.  Do you guys like it?  (Laughter.)

Thank you for joining us, Easter Bunny.

Q    Are there sticks and carrots? 


Q    Oooh —

MS. PSAKI:  Ooh, Kelly, coming with the fire today.  (Laughter.)  I like it.

Okay.  Okay.  Okay.  A couple of items for you at the top.  Happy Tax Day to those who celebrate, which we hope is everyone in the room.

Q    Oh, bring back the bunny.

MS. PSAKI:  (Laughs.)  As part of Tax Day, we’re highlighting the real difference between the President and congressional Republicans. 

President Biden has a simple philosophy: The middle class deserves some financial breathing room, which is why his economic plan would give tax relief to tens of millions of families — families who work hard and deserve a little extra cushion each month.

And the President believes billionaires should pay their fair share so we can invest in our economic future and cut the deficit.  That’s why he’s calling on the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent to pay the minimum tax of 20 percent, when, right now, the wealthiest families can pay a lower average rate than teachers.

And let me be crystal clear: The President will not raise taxes for anyone making under $400,000. 

The congressional Republican plan, however, as Senator Rick Scott outlined, couldn’t be more different.  Republicans on Capitol Hill are more than happy to pass a nearly $2 trillion tax giveaway to the wealthy and big corporations under the previous — they were, under the previous administration. 

But now, led by Senator Scott, Republicans want to raise taxes on the middle class, with one independent analysis showing their plan would hike taxes by an average of around $1,500 each year on 75 million American families, 96 percent of whom make under $100,000.  That’s the plan of congressional Republicans: tax hikes for the middle class; tax hikes for the wealthy and big corporations.

President Biden disagrees.  It’s time to put the middle class first.

Tomorrow, as you may know, the President is traveling to New Hampshire to highlight infrastructure investments to modernize our nation’s ports and waterways, and discuss how these investments will strengthen our supply chain, support local economies, and help cut costs for American families.

American ports are a cornerstone of the United States economy, but outdated infrastructure in the COVID-19 pandemic have strained their capacity and jeopardized global supply chains, which has caused delays and passed costs directly to consumers.

Thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we now have $17 billion to upgrade, repair, and maintain our nation’s port infrastructure.

As the President continues to use every tool to help bring down prices for Americans, investments that strengthen domestic supply chains and move goods faster and more efficiently are critical to lowering costs for families. 

So, during his trip tomorrow, he will visit Portsmouth Harbor, which is the only deep-water harbor in New Hampshire and handles approximately 3.[5] million tons and nearly $2 billion of cargo a year, including critical materials to support the local economy and clean energy production.

The port recently completed a project to widen the harbor’s turning basin and will receive funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to maintain safe and efficient operations along the channel — both crucial projects to accommodate larger ships and heavier loads of cargo.

I also wanted to note — a bunch of scheduling things today — today, we are pleased to announce that we will co-host the second Global [COVID] 19 Summit virtually on May 12th, alongside Belize, Germany, Indonesia, and Senegal.

The virtual summit will redouble our efforts to end the acute phase of the pandemic and prepare for future pandemics and other health threats.

Our role in co-hosting this summit continues to highlight — is to continue to highlight American leadership in the global COVID response, with our provision to date of more than $19 billion in health, humanitarian, and economic assistance, and our commitment to provide 1.2 billon vaccine doses to the world for free, of which we have already delivered more than 500 million doses.

And while we are dedicated to continuing to lead the global COVID response, we also need Congress to urgently do its part to fund the global COVID response.

We have requested a supplemental funding package for our most urgent needs to get shots into the arms and to provide lifesaving tests, treatments, and supplies.  And we will obviously continue to work with Congress on getting that funding when they return.

Finally, I wanted to — last thing is that we also announced that on March [May] 12th and 13th, the President will host the leaders of the ASEAN in Washington, D.C.  It will build on President Biden’s participation in the October 2021 U.S.-ASEAN Summit, where the President announced $102 million in new initiatives to expand our engagement with ASEAN on COVID-19, promoting economic growth and more.

And this will, of course — we’ll have more to preview as we get closer to that trip.

Josh, why don’t you kick us off?

Q    Thanks, Jen.  Happy Monday.

MS. PSAKI:  Happy Monday.

Q    Two subject areas.  First, a federal judge in Florida says the CDC exceeded its authority with the mask mandate in airports.  What’s the White House position?

MS. PSAKI:  The CDC recommended continuing the order for additional time — two weeks — to be able to assess the latest science in keeping with its responsibility to protect the American people. 

So, this is obviously a disappointing decision.  The CDC continues recommending wearing a mask in public transit.  As you know, this just came out this afternoon.  So, right now, the Department of Homeland Security, who would be implementing, and the CDC are reviewing the decision.  And, of course, the Department of Justice would make any determinations about litigation.

Q    Secondly, Russia is expected to virtually attend meetings of the IMF and World Bank this week.  Is that appropriate, given the actions in Ukraine?  And how should international organizations treat Russia?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the President has made clear that he does not believe we should be operating as business as usual.  And he’s made clear about his concerns about their participation in the G20. 

I’d also note that our representative there, the Secretary of Treasury, has made clear that she isn’t planning to attend events or meetings that the Russians are participating in.  But in terms of other determinations beyond that, I don’t have any further comment.

Go ahead.

Q    A question on this move to restart the sale of leases for drilling on public lands.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    How long do you think it will take for these new leases to actually start producing?  And what impact do you think this might have on gas prices?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, let me first say that today’s action — as you know, but for everybody — was the result of a court injunction that we continue to appeal.  And it’s not in line with the President’s policy, which was to ban additional leasing because, one, we need to move towards a more clean energy economy, which he strongly believes in, but also because there are 9,000 permits, unused, on lands that could be tapped into by oil companies, and we don’t feel they are needed. 

In terms of how long it will take to get up drilling because of the court action, I don’t have any assessment on that from here.  I would just note that we are going to continue to fight this court injunction that is forcing our hand in allowing this to proceed, even as we have taken actions to reduce by 80 percent the areas to lease and impose stringent environmental standards.

Q    But the President has promised to slash greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030.  Now you’re having to expand production of fossil fuels when you promised to curtail them.  Congress, as we know, has yet to act on many of your climate proposals.

Is the President’s ambitious climate change goal and agenda still attainable, or are these new leases going to undercut that pledge?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, these leases are not in line with our policy or the President’s view.

Q    But whether it’s your, you know, policy or not, I mean, this is the situation that you’re in.

MS. PSAKI:  It is.  And we’re going to continue — there’s — there is — obviously, we’re going to continue to fight this legal action.

But I would say that, you know, the President remains committed.  Addressing the climate crisis is one of the four pillars that he came in — he ran on as President and he will continue to fight for.

One of the reasons that this was so troubling to him is because he is so committed to that — that objective as President.  And we continue to propose — have continued to propose a historic investment in addressing the climate crisis, something that we will continue to discuss with Congress.

So, there are a lot of ways to get there that we will continue to work with Congress to take actions, but he has also not hesitated to take actions himself through his own authorities to take actions to help our climate. 

Q    So — but are you still confident that goal is achievable?

MS. PSAKI:  We are continuing to pursue it, and we are going to continue to do everything we can to reach it.

Go ahead.  Go ahead, Steve.

Q    Sorry.  Oh, thank you.  House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is saying President Putin probably would have backed off from invading Ukraine if President Biden had shipped weapons to Ukraine sooner.  Does the President feel he should have acted sooner?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, I mean, just for facts’ sake, we sent a record amount of security assistance to Ukraine during President Biden’s first year in office — more than any other president in history — and we shared a significant amount of intelligence with Ukraine about Russia’s intentions and military movements, as you all know because we’ve talked about it in here: $3.2 billion total, $2.6 billion since this conflict started.  

That’s in direct contrast with our predecessor who withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid from Ukraine, including Javelins, which Mr. McCarthy, who was critical of us in this moment, defended at the time as, quote, “the rightful thing to do” because he claimed people believed there was corruption in the Zelenskyy administration.

So, I don’t know if that’s a question for us as much as a question for him — what has changed in that period of time.

Q    And, secondly, are you planning more sanctions this week on Russia, more oligarchs?  What can you tell us?

MS. PSAKI:  We are continuing to review and consider additional sanctions.  It’s been an ongoing process.  But right now, you will — so you will see us continue to expand our sanctions targets and to continue to take steps to both further tighten our sanctions to prevent evasion and put in place additional sanctions. 

I also wanted to note a couple of comments for anyone with questions — which probably isn’t anyone in this room, but maybe — whether these sanctions are having an impact.  One is by the chairwoman of the Russian national — central bank, who said these sanctions are — quote, “will now begin to increasingly affect the real sectors of the economy,” and, quote, “practically every product.”  

She also said that, quote, “that sanctions are being tightened almost every day,” and, quote, “the period during which the economy can live on reserves is finite,” meaning these are really having the squeeze that the President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Treasury, and others have conveyed.  

But we are continuing to review, and I expect we’ll have more in the coming days.

Go ahead.

Q    Just to quickly follow up on the mask mandate being voided by this judge, what is the White House’s assessment of what that means for travelers today?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, it just happened this afternoon.  And so, the Department of Homeland Security is over — obviously oversees the implementation of this, and they’re reviewing it as we speak. 

Q    So it’s still in place right now?

MS. PSAKI:  They are doing it as we speak.  It just came out this afternoon.  And if there any updates while I’m out here, I’m sure we can provide them to all of you. 

Q    Okay.  And President Zelenskyy told Jake Tapper yesterday that he wants President Biden to visit Ukraine and he believes that he will.  You said last week there were no plans being made for President Biden to go.  Is that still the case? 

MS. PSAKI:  That has not changed.  What our focus continues to be on is providing Ukraine, the Ukrainian government, and Ukrainian leaders a historic amount of security assistance — assistance that’s been adapted based on their needs and their successes on the grounds.  And, obviously, that can be attributed largely to the courage and the bravery of Ukrainian leaders.  But the second reason is because of the military assistance we provided. 

I would note, because I know this is an understandable question you all have asked, that if anyone were to go — there’s no plans for the President to go, so let me just reiterate that — but we would not outline from here or anywhere from the government who, if, and when for security reasons.  So we wouldn’t have any details to preview regardless.

Q    Is the President considering granting President Zelenskyy’s request to make Russia a state sponsor of terrorism?

MS. PSAKI:  So that is a process that — it’s an authority that obviously exists within the government and at the State Department.  And in order, just broadly speaking, for any country to be designated a state sponsor of terror — and there’s only three [four] — North Korea, Sudan [Syria], and Iran — at this point in time, just for your full perspective — the Secretary of State would need to determine the government of that country has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism.  And these, of course, designations are made after careful review.

So while we have those authorities, I don’t have any update on that or prediction of that; that assessment would be made by the State Department.

What I would note, which I think is important, is that for the countries that have been designated state sponsors of terrorism — so I named a couple of them for you — that the four main categories of sanctions that result from designation under these authorities include restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance, a ban on defense exports and sales, certain controls over exports of dual-use items, and other financial restrictions. 

And what we’ve already done to date is, of course, impose significant financial sanctions, export controls, and curtailed restrictions on financial assistance.  So when you’re thinking about the impact, these are already a lot of steps that we’ve taken. 

But I have nothing to predict on that front.  That’s a — that’s a process that would have to be reviewed through the State Department.

Q    Okay.  And last question.  Russia warned the United States last week to stop arming Ukraine or it will risk “unpredictable consequences.”  What does the U.S. believe those consequences would be? 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we’re not going to comment.  I mean, I’m not going to speculate on empty threats or threats by President Putin or by Russian leadership.  What we have done here is done exactly what the President said we would do from the beginning, which is to — if they invaded, we would be providing significant security assistance, economics assistance, and support to the Ukrainian people.  And we’re going to continue to do exactly that. 

Go ahead.

Q    I want to belabor this only because we’ve heard from the airlines, from airport passengers; there may be people sitting at an airport bar watching right now, wondering: If they’re boarding a flight tonight, is the mask mandate still in place? 

MS. PSAKI:  We’re continuing to recommend people wear masks.  I don’t have any update.  This just came out through the courts just this afternoon.  And as soon as there is an update, we will provide that to all of you. 

Q    Is the White House anticipating an announcement by Homeland Security tonight?

MS. PSAKI:  They are assessing it right now.  And as soon as they have an assessment and an update on additional steps, they’ll make that available.

Q    But if the DOJ, say, doesn’t stay the order tonight or first thing tomorrow morning, are passengers supposed to go maskless?

MS. PSAKI:  I understand why you’re asking, and certainly no one here is trying to provoke uncertainty with passengers.  We also think the mask mandate should be in place and that it’s safer for individuals who are flying to continue to wear masks.

So we would say to anyone sitting out there: We’d recommend you wear masks on the airplane.  And then, as soon as we can provide an update from here — hopefully soon — we’ll provide that to all of you. 

Q    Two more related CDC things.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    In the ruling, the judge said that she accepts the CDC’s argument that masks limit COVID spread, but that alone is not sufficient to overcome what she concludes is a rule that exceeds the agency’s authority to put it in place.  The administration believes otherwise.  Right?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, otherwise we wouldn’t have put it in place to begin with.

Q    Okay.  So, that, potentially, is the crux of an appeal or an attempt to stop it?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, I would leave that to the Department of Justice. 

But all — what we — what we announced last week was just a two-week extension in order to have time to assess what we’ve all seen is rising cases, and make an assessment and recommendation with that in mind.  So, of course, it’s disappointing.

Q    There’s another issue the CDC is in the middle of that’s troubling some Democrats, and that is, of course, the impending end of Title 42.  Gary Peters, who chairs the Homeland Security Committee — another Democratic senator – today, suggesting he has doubts about ending Title 42, says that Secretary Mayorkas is scheduled to be there for a budget hearing, I believe later this month or next month.  What more, though, is the administration sharing with these Democrats and Republicans, but notably a handful of Democrats who say they don’t see a firm plan, they want more details, and the administration seems to be rushing into this with no sense of what the repercussions could be? 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think it’s important to remember this is not an immigration authority — for anyone who has concerns about it — nor is it an immigration plan.  We’ve never said it was.  It is a health authority that Congress gave the CDC authority to make a determination about, about whether it needs to stay in place or not.

There is no question we have a broken immigration system, there’s more we need to do.  We’ve been saying that from the first day the President took office.  And anyone who wants to work on that — Democrats, Republicans, anyone — how we can put smarter security in place, how we can have an asylum processing system that works, we would love to do that.

But what they’re — what is happening right now is they’re essentially holding hostage funding for COVID.  And we are going to run out of funding — we’re already running out of funding — for key programs.  So our issue here is let’s move forward with the COVID funding.  We’re happy to have a discussion about the broken immigration system.  We agree it’s broken.  Let’s work together on addressing that.

Q    You say that because there’s this amendment to the COVID plan —

MS. PSAKI:  Well, that’s the —

Q    — that would put it in place?

MS. PSAKI:  I say that because that’s the root issue here, isn’t it?  I mean, anyone who’s raising concerns, they’re tying it to — they’re tying it to the COVID funding. 

Q    Republicans are, but you got a handful of Democrats who aren’t necessarily supportive of that amendment.

MS. PSAKI:  I understand that, but we’re also happy to work with anyone on immigration reform and any concerns they have.

Q    But it sounds like the answer is, “If you’ve got concerns, you, Congress, do something about it.”

MS. PSAKI:  Well —

Q    Not “here’s what happens on May 25th, once Title 42 is gone.”

MS. PSAKI:  The President put forward a bill his first day in office.  It’s not “you do something about it.”  Let’s work together on it.  And we’re happy to do that.  You have different ideas, you want to talk about how to move this forward?  Let’s do that.

At the same time, what’s happening is this COVID funding, which means people who are uninsured are not going to be able to get access to treatments, to vaccines — we’re going — and we’re not going to be able to get the fourth booster shot to everybody.  We’re not going to be able to get the treatments for immunocompromised. 

So that’s where we’re at.  And that’s why it’s important to move that funding for it.  And, yes, our system is broken.  Let’s address it.  But this is a health authority, not an immigration authority. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  You said about this mask ruling out of a federal court in Florida that it’s a “disappointing decision,” and you say you continue to recommend that people wear masks.  Why is it that we can sit here in the White House briefing room with no masks, but people can’t sit in an airplane cabin with no masks?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, Peter, I’m not a doctor.  You’re not a doctor — that I’m aware of.  If you’re a doctor, I wasn’t aware of that today — until today.

Q    Can confirm.  Right.

MS. PSAKI:  Okay, not a doctor.  (Laughter.)  Just making sure.  I don’t know.

Q    Nor do you play one on TV.

MS. PSAKI:  Nor does he play one on TV.  There you go.  Most days.

But these determinations — remember the masking guidance is — there are — is green, yellow, and red.  We are currently in a green zone in Washington, D.C., so they’re not recommending it.

Some people can still wear a mask if they want to — many people do — or wear them in meetings or wear them at certain times where you’re going to be around or sitting close to people, or maybe you have an immunocompromised parent or — or friend.  And so people make that decision.

And there’s — this is based on health considerations and data that the CDC looks at about transmissibility as — as we’ve seen an increase in cases on — on airplanes.

Q    Jen, would the President support if a flight is leaving from an airport in a green zone, those people don’t have to wear masks?

MS. PSAKI:  Again, Peter, there’s a — there’s been long a difference from the beginning about people on an airplane and in federal transportation vehicles and situations than where they are in locations, like we here — here continue to be, in Washington, D.C., a green zone.

But what we had asked for — I think it’s important to remember — is a two-week extension — or not asked for — what we had announced was a two-week extension to look at the data and make recommendations based on the data and the science about whether it should be continued or not.

Q    Okay.  On a different topic, we have new reporting that at least 23 people apprehended at the southern border in 2021 are on the terror watchlist.  Why do you guys think it is that somebody on a terror watchlist would want to get into the United States undetected?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I can’t make an assessment of that.  But what I can tell you is that your data you’re citing here, it means the Border Patrol was doing their job.  I mean, they —

Q    So — so, sixty-two- —

MS. PSAKI:  — they apprehended people at the border.

Q    — -two thousand illegal immigrants a day got away last month.  Are you saying that you can say with certainty none of them are on a terror watchlist?

MS. PSAKI:  Here’s what we’re talking about: Encounters, we know, and — of suspected terrorists attempting to cross the southern border, they’re very uncommon.  We’re talking about a few dozen annual encounters at most — at most.  And these encounters represent significantly less than the .01 percent of total encounters per fiscal year in recent years.

But I’d note: These individuals, these 23 people — the Border Patrol, they stopped them.  They prevented them from getting into the country.  They’re protecting our homeland and keeping us safe.

Q    So the President is not worried about holes in the southern border being exploited by people trying to come in and kill Americans?

MS. PSAKI:  He’s grateful to the Border Patrol for doing their job and — and stopping these people and preventing them from getting into the country.

Q    And one additional question about something that happened a few months ago down at the border: We’ve been told that the mounted Border Patrol officers the President accused of whipping migrants have been notified they will not face criminal charges.  So, when is the President going to apologize to them?

MS. PSAKI:  There is a process and an investigation that’s gone to the Department of Homeland Security.  I don’t have any update on that.

Q    The President said that they were whipping people, which would be a criminal offense.  And they’ve been told they’re not going to be criminally charged.  So will the President —

MS. PSAKI:  And there was an investigation into that.  And I’ll let the Department of Homeland Security announce any conclusion of that investigation.

Q    You accused these officers of brutal and inappropriate measures.  Now that they’ve been told they will not be criminally charged, will you apologize to them?

MS. PSAKI:  And, Peter, there was an investigation into their behavior, so that investigation is playing out.  Whenever there — it’s going to be announced, the Department of Homeland Security will announce that.  And then I’m sure we’ll have a comment on it after that.

Go ahead.

Q    Back on the mask issue: As the debate is going on about next steps, is there any concern in the White House that this issue — now that there are some Americans who are aware of this ruling by the Florida judge — that it could prompt some of the tensions we’ve seen on airplanes in recent months until there’s a resolution?

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah, Kelly, it’s a great question.  Obviously, what we’re trying to do — what we would encourage is calm in all cases.  And because this ruling just came out this afternoon, I know the objective of everybody involved and all the necessary authorities in government is to make a determination about next steps as quickly as possible.  So that’s certainly our hope, and we want to do everything we can to prevent that.

Q    On the oil leases: Does the President see any secondary benefit to the fact that even though this is not his policy objective, that there could be some additional production that could help, given the fact that gas prices are high and there has been a push to have additional production because of the war in Ukraine, even though it’s not his policy objective?

MS. PSAKI:  I can tell you from talking with him about this this morning, he does not.  He believes that, as he announced and — he remains committed to the ban he called for on the expansion of — of leasing on federal lands, in part because he wants to move toward a clean energy economy — and he’s very committed to that — and address climate change, but also because there’s 9,000 unused leases that can be tapped into and used.  And we certainly have encouraged oil companies to do that to help address, exactly as you said, the need to get more supply in the marketplace.

Q    Does he see this move by the Department of Interior as a — going against his campaign pledge?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, he sees — he knows that it was the result of a court injunction, as you heard Secretary Haaland say.  And so it was — her hands were tied in many ways, as they can be, by legal — by legal requirements.

But what they did, which he certainly supported, was take steps to reduce by 80 percent the areas to lease.  And they also imposed stringent environmental safeguards in order to take additional steps, even as the court injunction made them take this — these steps.

Q    You did not mention Cuba as a state sponsor of terror.  Should we read into that?

MS. PSAKI:  I did not mean to not mention them.  I wanted to cite some examples, just to give people a sense of how few there are and what kinds of countries.  I wasn’t meant to —

Q    You’re not lifting them.

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not announcing new policy.  No, I’m not.  (Laughter.)  I’m not announcing new policy.  I just wanted to give an indication of what that is and how limited the number of countries are.

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you.  This is a question that comes from one of my colleagues who’s reporting in Ukraine right now.

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

Q    He is wondering, you know, as conditions in Mariupol continue to disintegrate, is the United States considering any creative ways to help the Ukrainians who are under siege — for instance, sending in third-country planes or planes from a neutral organization like the Red Cross to get relief in there?

MS. PSAKI:  So, you mean humanitarian relief?

Q    Yes.

MS. PSAKI:  We are engaged with surrounding countries, with aid organizations about a range of ways to get aid and assistance in.  And, obviously, from the start of this, if there was — if there was an allowance or an implementation of these humanitarian corridors, it would have helped enable.  But we can’t talk about a lot of those things from here.  But we are going to continue to take steps to provide humanitarian assistance in every way that we can.

I would note — you didn’t ask this question, but just one other little update: There were four planes that arrived, of military assistance, over the course of the weekend.  Another one tod- — is supposed to arrive today, if it hasn’t already, from the $800 million package the President announced.  So just to give you a sense of our efforts to continue to get more assistance in.

Q    And completely unrelated, but today on a background call about climate policy, an administration official said that the White House is in touch with a wide range of members of Congress about a reconciliation package.  So are negotiations ongoing for Build Back Better or Building a Better America or whatever you’re calling it now?  And are you talking about it?

MS. PSAKI:  We — we are talking about it, whatever you call it — a reconciliation package — including getting a historic investment in climate; including lowering the cost of childcare, eldercare, and healthcare — taking all of these steps that the President has been committed to.  These conversations have been ongoing over the course of the last several months.

Q    And are those — is Joe Manchin involved in those conversations?  Who are you talking to?

MS. PSAKI:  We’re talking to everybody across the board.  I’m not going to name all the names, but they’re all included — Democrats across the board who want to get this done.

Go ahead.

Q    Is the U.S. moving any closer to reopening its embassy in Kyiv now that Spain is joining France, Italy, and others in doing so?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, certainly that’s our objective — is to open it.  But what we — what we are evaluating is, obviously, security considerations and when the State Department is prepared to do that.  

So — and we look at, kind of, who should go first and how many — and how many people and when.  But it’s all done through the State Department.  And they make those initial recommendations about when to return.  

But that certainly is our objective.  Obviously, having a diplomatic presence on the — on the ground is important.

Q    And just one more thing.  President Zelenskyy says the Russians have begun their offensive to take control of eastern Ukraine.  What is the administration’s assessment of what’s happening there now?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I know that my Defense Department colleague just did a briefing, so I’d really point you to the Department of Defense for any kind of on-the-ground updates. 

Go ahead.

Q    Yesterday, on CBS, Senator Coons said that without the West coming more forcefully to Ukraine’s aid, he said, quote, “I deeply worry that…we will see Ukraine turn into Syria.”  Does the President share that concern?

MS. PSAKI:  That’s not words or a phrase the President would use or we would use from — from the United States.  Obviously, what we’ve seen to date is the Ukrainians bravely fight back against the Russians and win, essentially, the Battle of Kyiv and continue to fight back against their efforts across the country.

We’ve known and predicted that they would move their ground game to eastern Ukraine, which is exactly what they’ve done.  And we also have known and predicted — and when — when Jake Sullivan was here just a week or two ago, he also conveyed that they were — that Moscow was likely to launch air and missile strikes across Ukraine to cause military and economic damage.  That’s what we’re seeing in Lviv and other — and other places at this point in time.

But what we’ve seen, I think, is them behave bravely, with huge courage, and they have had the success in pushing back against the Russians because of that, but also because of the military assistance provided by the United States.  So, no, we would not share that assessment.

Q    And on the diplomatic front, are — is the administration any closer to naming an ambassador to Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI:  I certainly understand the question.  I don’t have any update on that at this point from here.  

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  I want to ask about a story some of my colleagues reported earlier today.  Some allies of former President Trump have been pressing for statehouses around the country to pass resolutions rescinding Electoral College votes for President Biden and to bring lawsuits that seek to prove baseless claims of large-scale voter fraud.  Legal experts have called this effort “preposterous,” but is an organized push among those allies to decertify the last election something this administration is monitoring or concerned about?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say that there have been dozens of court cases that have not been won by our predecessor and people who support him in an effort to overturn the outcome of the last election.  And our focus is on governing for the American people, delivering for the American people, and less on focusing on what he and his people are up to.  

Go ahead.

Q    Yeah.  Thanks, Jen.  I wanted to follow up on the question earlier regarding Senator Coons’s comments.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    One of the points he was making was that the U.S. needs to have a conversation about sending U.S. troops to Ukraine.  He told “Face the Nation” yesterday, quote, “The American people cannot turn away from this tragedy in Ukraine.  I think the…21st century turns on how fiercely we defend freedom in Ukraine, and that Putin will only stop when we stop him.” 

What — what’s the White House’s response to this suggestion from the Senator that the U.S. needs to start having a conversation about maybe sending troops to Ukraine?  And does the President agree that Putin will stop when we, the U.S. — only when we, the U.S., stop him?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, what I would say is, one, Senator Coons is a close friend of the President’s and the administration, and we just respectfully disagree with his proposal. 

The President continues to — has no plans to send troops to fight a war with Russia.  He doesn’t think that’s in our national security interests, in the interest of the American people. 

And so, what our focus has been on has been obviously providing this historic amount of security assistance — military assistance, weapons to the Ukrainians — that has helped them effectively fight this war and economic assistance as well.  This is also strengthening their hand at the negotiating table, even while we are putting in place a historic package of economic sanctions that, as I noted earlier, even the head of the Russian Central Bank is noting the im- — the devastating impact of these sanctions on the Russian economy. 

So, that has been our strategic focus.  Of course, we support the Ukrainians in every way possible.  But the President is not going to fight a war with Russia.

Go ahead.

Q    The President has done or will do a lot of travel in recent days to places where — 

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    — so-called House “frontliners” are running for reelection.  And I wanted to know if you could talk about how much political considerations are weighed or taken into consideration when the White House decides where to send the President.  And also, if — what kind of an impact do you think, if any, will his discussion and promotion of things like the Infrastructure Law will have on voters this fall?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I’m always careful about what I get into about politics from here.  I’ve learned my lesson.  But what I will say is that the President is proud to go out in the country — in blue states, red states, purple states — to talk about his agenda, both what he has achieved, including the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that is rebuilding roads, rails, and bridges, and — and in replacing lead pipes around the country, expanding broadband access across the country in communities, no matter what your political party is. 

And he’s also proud to go out and talk about his economic agenda that he’s still fighting to get passed, which includes care, healthcare, eldercare, and reducing costs. 

And his view is that for anyone out there, when they’re out there — senators or members of Congress who are going to be talking to their communities — that standing up for his agenda and standing up for this agenda that will make the American people’s lives better is a winning argument. 

So, I would say: I wouldn’t — I’m not going to overly note the political sway of districts or states, but he’s always said he wants to be the President for all people, govern for all people, and that means talking about his agenda in red, blue, and purple states.

Go ahead.

Q    Jen, going back to coronavirus, some of us recently here and around the country have been taking home tests to diagnose ourselves.  And when those come up positive, those aren’t always reported to public health.  And sometimes they can’t be; sometimes they won’t even accept that. 

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

Q    Do you believe that we have an accurate sense of the spread of the coronavirus right now?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think what’s important to remember is that, one, CD- — what — how CDC continues to track COVID cases that are reported, they do it really through hospitalizations and deaths.  And those numbers around severe disease come directly from hospitals and states.  And what we’re seeing through those is that we’re at the lowest level of hospitalization since the start of the pandemic; I believe we’re still at that point in time.

So, we certainly encourage people to share their test results and contact their doctor, because they may be eligible for Paxlovid or any other therapeutics. 

But, you know, beyond that, as I think I would note, when we put out the President’s 100-page plan, we noted that our focus was really on hospitalizations, deaths, and severe cases, even as we’re encouraging people to report testing for contact tracing and other purposes when they test positive.

Q    On Title 42, there is a bipartisan group of senators — including Sinema, Manchin; some who are at risk, including Senator Kelly — who say — who are proposing the idea of letting the Surgeon General certify when the public health emergency has ended.  Is that something the President would consider?  And then, why or why not?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the C- — Congress gave the CDC the authority.  So —

Q    But this would be a change in that, and I’m wondering if you’re open to that idea.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I don’t have any prediction of that at this point.  The CDC is the public health authority for the country, so I don’t — I don’t have any more predictions of that. 

Go ahead.

Q    Japanese Prime Minister Kishida just announced Japan taking in a group of refugees, which is really a big deal for Japan.  And the Foreign Minister, Hayashi, flew back a group of refugees from Poland to Japan.  Is the administration aware of that? 

And then also, with the trip to Japan next month, any update on whether an interview with the President is in the offing?

MS. PSAKI:  Oh, it’s an interview pitch.  Okay.  (Laughter.)  I said, “Oh, an interview with whom?”  I like your style.

We certainly welcome and applaud the actions of the — of Japan and the Japanese leadership, and are grateful to their steps in taking in refugees and their humanitarian support through this conflict.  And they’re an important partner, as you know, and have been a part of important meetings on the conflict in Ukraine in recent months, including on the President’s last trip to Europe.  

I will certainly take under advisement your request. 

Go ahead, Eugene.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  There have been kind of a growing — growing rumblings among economists about the “R” word — recession — that coming possibly — 

MS. PSAKI:  The “R” word.

Q    The “R” word.  

MS. PSAKI:   I was like, “Where are we going with this?” 

Q    (Inaudible) you know, it’s a scary word for everybody.

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.

Q    And I’m — I guess I’m just curious how the administration is viewing the possibility of that and what kind of conversations are happening right now about a possible recession.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we continue to believe — our economists, most importantly — that the United States economy will deal with challenges ahead from a position of strength because of the President’s economic plan. 

It’s important to remember we created more jobs last year than any year — other year in history.  We obviously have a very low unemployment rate in the country, and we’ve seen wages go up in a number of areas. 

I would note that there was a Goldman Sachs — you may be referring to this — the Goldman Sachs analysis.  And even in their analysis, they said, quote, “We still do not see a recession as inevitable, however, particularly since the [Fed’s] goal of cooling the economy while avoiding a recession will be helped by post-COVID normalizations in labor supply and durable goods prices.”

So our view is we’re in a period of historic job growth, strong business investments, strong consumer and business balance sheets, and normalizing supply chains.  Those are all good signs for the economy, but obviously, we will continue to monitor any — any concerns we have about where things are headed.

Q    And as the — if inflation continues to rise, what are the concerns about that (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the Federal Reserve continues to project that it will moderate by the end of the year.  And they — obviously, we support their steps they’ve announced to recalibrate, and we’ve already seen some of those actions taken. But, really, the — it’s under their purview, so we would point to their projections.

Go ahead.

Q    So just a follow-up on Title 42.  The issue that Democratic senators have brought up is that there isn’t a detailed plan, they think, to deal with the expected rise in migrants at the border.  So does the White House feel confident that the administration has the necessary resources and operational plan in place to process and house and transport migrants?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would point you to the fact that the Department of Homeland Security put out a plan that they briefed members on when we announced the timeline — or the implementation period — an extended period that wasn’t immediate — at the time.  That includes surging resources and making sure we had the type of resources available to meet any needs.  

So, they did put out a preparedness plan at the time, but we’re going to have continuing conversations, and we certainly welcome any engagement to do that.  Our issue is more the hooking it with COVID funding because of the devastating impact that would have on communities across the country.

Q    All right.  And just another question on the Times op-ed that Senator Warren wrote today, saying that Democrats need to deliver on more of their agenda in order to keep the majorities in Congress.  Do you agree with that premise?  

And at this point, I know you named a few of the legislative priorities already in the briefing, but is — are there a top three priorities that the White House feels they can actually get done before the midterms?

MS. PSAKI:  We love all of our children in the legislature around here. 

What I will say is that, you know, we’ve talked a bit about steps to lower costs — which I know Senator Warren, of course, strongly supports as well — for childcare, for healthcare, for eldercare, for prescription drugs; these are no-brainers for most people in the country.  And also making the tax system more fair.  We think those are all issues that Democrats, but also a lot of people around the country, would love for us to do more on and love to talk about more. 

We, of course, as I’ve stated a couple times in this briefing, want to get COVID funding because we think it’s essential so that we can continue a lot of the programs that have had such a huge impact on people’s lives, including for the uninsured; including in making sure we have boosters for — fourth boosters for every American who wants them, whenever people are eligible; including being able to buy enough Evusheld and for — and treatments for the immunocompromised.  That’s hugely important to us. 

And then, of course, we — we want to get the Innovation Act passed because we believe that that’s something that should have bipartisan support.  And we want to make sure we have manufacturing here in the United States, something that can make us stronger over the long term. 

There are many other things, but I would say those are a couple of the things that we will continue to fight to move forward on.

Q    So you agree with the premise that the administration and Democrats in Congress needs to get more done in order to have a shot at the majority?

MS. PSAKI:  I would say I’m not going to make political predictions from here. 

What I will say, though, is that everybody looks at a choice and what each party is fighting for, is advocating for, has gotten accomplished, but also what their vision is for the future.  And we’re proud of our vision.

Go ahead.

Q    Jen, to go back to the virtual COVID Summit —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    — you’ve mentioned, again, the need for Congress to improve COVID funding.  Does the White House see that date, May 12th, for the summit as a deadline for Congress to get that funding approved?

MS. PSAKI:  We don’t, but we just see it as a reminder of how important it is that — to continue to take steps to be the provider, the va- — the arsenal of vaccines to the world, something we have already done since the — since the last summit.

While the world has made significant progress in scaling up vaccination efforts, and COVI- — and COVAX has now provided almost 1.2 billion vaccines to more — COVAX, yes — to more than 140 countries, with 80 per- — 88 percent of those contributions going to low- and middle-income countries, we’re not at the global vaccination rate that we need to be or that health experts project we want to be at.  Right?  It’s a 70 percent vaccination target.  That’s the global target set by the World Health Organization.

And while vaccination rates are rising, only approximately 20 percent of countries are fully vaccinated — at least seven- — at least 70 percent of their population. 

But this is an opportunity.  Obviously, we’re going to continue to fight for more funding here.  But we will — to continue to press other countries to do more to help the world make progress as well.

Q    And along those lines, you know, we’ve heard USAID chief, Samantha Powers, say earlier this month that if there isn’t that global COVID funding — if Congress puts something together without it — that the U.S. would then turn its back on the countries that need urgent help to boost vaccination rates.  Will it be difficult for the U.S. to take a lead at a summit like that if that funding has not come through?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we are far and away the leader in the world.  That will not change between now and the summit, regardless of funding.

However, we want to continue to be, and continue to be providing not just vaccine doses, but also the know-how and equipment and supplies that countries around the world need. 

Q    Jen, more mass shootings this past weekend.  More mass shootings; two teenage boys dead, dozens injured.  What does the President believe is causing such a callous disregard for human life in this country?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, let me first say — and thank you for the question — these shootings are horrific and must stop.  Our prayers are with the survivors, those who are lost, and their families. 

I can’t attribute — obviously, these — this just happened over the weekend — the reasoning.  But what I can tell you is that it’s a reminder of the need to take more steps to stop gun crime, something the President has strongly supported and advocated for since — for decades in public office: cracking down on gun traffickers, putting more cops on the beat, investing in community anti-crime programs, and, of course, also confirming a very qualified individual, Steve Dettelbach, to lead the ATF.

Q    But aside from laws, you know, what — does the President have in mind, if anything, a plan to improve, to get people to respect life more, to respect other human beings, laws aside?  You can’t legislate morality and values — right? — human life.  Does he have — does he ever talk about that openly to you or anyone else?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think every time that you’ve seen the President talk about shootings, the impact on families, on human beings, on loved ones, on communities, he talks about that human impact.  

And — but it also is true that in order to reduce and change the direction of crime and gun crime, which is the majority of crime, we need to change — we need to have more laws in place.

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you.  Texas Governor Abbott said that, quote, “financial pain” was necessary to get officials to take action on illegal immigration.  Is there any sense that those border inspections did cause financial pain, that there was any disruption in the supply chain or anything like that, that you all are tracking?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, while I don’t have an extended summary — summary analysis, what I do know is that you don’t have to look farther than the comments made by business leaders, trade organizations — of all political stripes and parties — and their opposition to the unnecessary additional steps that the governor was implementing. 

And there’s $1 million in trade crossing over the U.S.-Mexico border every minute.  So there’s no question that putting these unnecessary inspections in place — which resulted, at the time, in the drop in commercial traffic of up to 60 to 70 percent in some ports — was having a huge impact on the local community, on businesses.  And that’s why so many people were so outspoken about it.

Q    And just quickly —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    — do you have an update on the plan for Ukrainian refugees?  Will it be a parole program like you have for Afghans, or any (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah, I certainly understand the question.  I don’t have any update in this moment.  That’s exactly the type of program, but there are a lot of considerations, so hopefully we’ll have more soon. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  Does President Biden have confidence in Senator Dianne Feinstein?

MS. PSAKI:  Does he have con- —

Q    Confidence in Senator Dianne Feinstein.

MS. PSAKI:  Yes, he’s — she’s a longtime friend, a proud public servant, and someone he has long enjoyed serving with and working with.

Q    And after that report came out last week questioning her health, did the President reach out to her at all?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any updates on the President’s conversations.

Q    Thanks, Jen.

MS. PSAKI:  Thanks, everyone.

4:54 P.M. EDT

Stay Connected

Sign Up

We'll be in touch with the latest information on how President Biden and his administration are working for the American people, as well as ways you can get involved and help our country build back better.

Opt in to send and receive text messages from President Biden.

Scroll to Top Scroll to Top