James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

3:20 P.M. EDT

MS. PSAKI:  Hi, everyone.  Okay.  There’s nothing happening in the world today, I hear — (laughter) — so this should be a quick one.

I have a couple of items for you at the top, as usual.

Over the past year, businesses have been dealing with frequent freight delay — rail delays and poor service, which has stranded shipments of grain, fertilizer, ethanol, and other critical commodities across the country.  This breakdown in service has also forced grain shippers to pay thousands of extra dollars to guarantee service.

So, on Friday, our administration took emergency action to get goods moving faster and lower shipping costs.  The Surface Transportation Board, which regulates railroads, acted on a bipartisan basis to help bring relief to American businesses that ship their goods by freight rail. 

Basically, what they did is: This emergency rule would allow it to address situations where a monopolu- — monopoly railroad isn’t providing adequate service and show an alternative railroad to step in.  So if a business wants to move their goods and the railroad that they are contracted with isn’t allowing them to move them quickly, this will allow them to have some flexibility, hopefully allowing the movement of more goods, getting them on shelves, lowering costs.

I also wanted to note that while the President is doing everything in his power to lower prices for American families, the Federal Reserve plays an important role, as you all know, in fighting inflation, which is why it’s so important that we have all of the seats filled on the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors. 

Today and this week, as Congress returns, we’re taking a big step forward toward filling these seats with the nominations of Lael Brainard and Lisa Cook making their way to the Senate floor.

We call on the Senate to confirm Dr. Brainard and Dr. Cook. And we also call on the Senate to swiftly take up Jerome Powell and Philip Jefferson’s nominations this week as well. 

These nominees are eminently qualified, ready to get to work, and deserve bipartisan support.  They also will make history.  Lisa Cook would become the first Black woman to ever serve on the Board of Governors, and Philip Jefferson will be only the fourth Black man to serve on the Board of Governors.

Finally, the VA announced today new actions to expand disability and health bene- — benefits to veterans suffering from nine rare respiratory cancers.  Supporting our veterans is a critical part of the President’s Unity Agenda.  And with this step, the President is continuing to deliver on the sacred obligation we have to our nation’s veterans.

The President urges congress to pass bipartisan legislation to comprehensively address toxic exposures and further delay [deliver] the vital benefits our veterans have earned.

Andrea, welcome back.  Peter, welcome from book leave.  Now they’re going to ask me especially hard questions.

Zeke, go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  Secretary Austin, I believe, said earlier this morning that the U.S. wants to, quote, “see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds things that it has done in invading Ukraine.”  He said that in regards to Russian military losses, quote, “We want to see them not have the capability to very quickly reproduce that capability.”  Is it U.S. policy now to permanently degrade the Russian military?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think what Secretary Austin in his press conference was referring to is the fact that if you go back about two months ago, remember President Putin gave a speech where he talked about the aspirations — his aspirations, the aspirations he had for the Russian military — which were to degrade Ukraine, of course; to subsume Ukraine, to take over their sovereignty, their territorial integrity.  Of course, they haven’t succeeded at that, but to go beyond that. 

So what Secretary Austin was talking about is our objective to prevent that from happening.  Obviously, right now, the war is in Ukraine.  They are — we’re proud of the Ukrainians’ success; their efforts to fight back, to push back on the Russian military, thanks to their bravery but also to our support.

But, yes, we are — we are also — we are also looking to prevent them from expanding their efforts and President Putin’s objectives beyond that, too.

Q    Is there any concern in the White House that that sort of rhetoric plays into their domestic message to their audience about “the West is out trying to get us and contain us,” that — by saying you’re trying to weaken the Russian military and weaken — it’s essentially strengthening Putin’s hand at home?

MS. PSAKI:  No.  I would say it’s consistent with our view and the President’s view and Secretary Austin’s view that we are going to do everything we can to push back on President Putin’s aspirations to subsume Ukraine, to take over their territorial integrity and their sovereignty, and aspirations he had as of two months ago to go beyond that.

Q    Okay.  And Congress is back in town today.  The President last week said he’s going to go back to Congress looking for additional —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    — supplemental Ukraine funding.  Do you have a dollar figure for how much the President need — is going to go ask for and how long that money would last?

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Not quite yet.  He is — expect he’ll have consultations and conversations with military leadership and, of course, leadership from the State Department over the course of the coming days.  I expect it’ll be something later in the week, and expect it’ll be a longer-term package or proposal.

Go ahead.

Q    And just a quick one on the breaking news: Twitter agreeing to let Elon Musk purchase — make his — go through with this purchase.  Do you have a response to that?  And does the White House have any concern that this new agreement might have President Trump back on the platform?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I’m not going to comment on a specific transaction.  What I can tell you as a general matter: No matter who owns or runs Twitter, the President has long been concerned about the power of large social media platforms, what they ha- — the power they have over our everyday lives; has long argued that tech platforms must be held accountable for the harms they cause.  He has been a strong supporter of fundamental reforms to achieve that goal, including reforms to Section 230, enacting antitrust reforms, requiring more transparency, and more.  And he’s encouraged that there’s bipartisan interest in Congress.

In terms of what hypothetical policies might happen, I’m just not going to speak to that at this point in time.

Q    Okay.  On the situation at the border and Title 42, Congressman McCaul said this weekend that Secretary Mayorkas has expressed some frustration directly to him about how the administration is ending Title 42.  He says the Secretary is saying that the Border Patrol, Catholic Charities are already overwhelmed.  So, has the Secretary raised these concerns with President Biden?  And are these concerns that the White House shares?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think it’s important to remember that Title 42 is not an immigration policy or an immigration authority.  It’s a health authority.  So, yes, it was coordinated with the Secretary of Homeland Security and through an interagency process, and there’s been planning in the works for months for this possibility that the CDC — to take this action.

Secretary Mayorkas is going to be testifying later this week, multiple times.  I’m sure he will answer that question and multiple other questions, and I will let him speak for himself.

But I would just note that we’re continuing to prepare for March — May 23rd and the im- — May 23rd and the implementation, and there is a multipart strategy that Secretary Mayorkas has been leading and overseeing for the past several months.

Q    But has he raised these concerns with the President? 

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not going to get into private conversations.  But I think, again, it’s important to note this is a CDC decision and authority about when we were — had the health conditions to lift Title 42.  It wasn’t an indication of an immigration policy.

Q    Do you not believe that there will not be a surge as a result of Title 42 being lifted come May 23rd?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the Department of Homeland Security has projected that there could be an increase in people coming to the border, and that’s why they’ve had a six-part, multipart plan and proposal and policy they’ve been implementing for months now to prepare for that.

Q    Is Title 42 — the potential end to it — the reason that the Congressional Hispanic Caucus is meeting with the President today?

MS. PSAKI:  No.  Actually, if you may remember, the President has been meeting with a number of the caucuses from Congress — from the Congressional Black Caucus; he met with CAPAC.  He’s been meeting with all of the caucuses, as he did last year.  So, this has been a meeting that’s been in the works for some time. 

Immigration, certainly we expect to be a part of it, but we expect it to be an expansive meeting.  And I would note the CHC has a stated view and policy on Title 42.

Go ahead.

Q    One of the members of the CHC is Senator Catherine Cortez Masto.  And she said of the Title 42 decision that “This is the wrong way to do this and it will leave the administration unprepared for a surge at the border.”  Obviously, this is a subject that’s likely to come up in this meeting today.  What is the President’s message, primarily especially to these western and border-state Democrats who are concerned about both the impact on immigration as a policy matter but also the political fallout as well?

MS. PSAKI:  I think his — our view and the President’s view is that we have a broken immigration system that’s been long overdue to be fixed.  He agrees with that, and he’s certainly happy to discuss that during this meeting or any other meeting has with members of Congress.

But this is not an immigration policy.  This — Title 42 is a health authority that’s determined by the CDC.  And we — we need to have a conversation about immigration reform, and that’s vital.  And maybe this is a reminder of that.

Q    Whenever the administration has been asked about immigration reform, the answer seems to be the President introduced the bill in the first week in office, but there’s not much more than that more.  Is this an opportunity for the administration to try to move something forward this year?  Or do you believe that campaign politics will just preclude the likelihood of getting it through?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we welcome that opportunity.  But I’d also remind you that we were supportive of efforts to include some components of immigration reform in the reconciliation packages, and we’ve been looking for avenues to move it forward and have been supportive of efforts by Democratic senators to do exactly that.

Q    Is there a specific ask of Congress related to Title 42?  That was the position that was articulated last week — that this is not a decision for the President to make but for Congress to make.  What is the decision that Congress should be making?

MS. PSAKI:  That is a discussion we’ll have with members of Congress.  We are continuing to prepare to implement the lifting of Title 42, a decision that was made by the CDC.

I would note that there are a range of views on Title 42.  There are some, you noted, who are very vocal about how they would like to see it extended.  There are some who are very vocal about how they would not like to see that happen. 

So that’s an important discussion that will be happening over the coming days and weeks. 

Go ahead, Jacqui.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  I don’t believe the White House so far has commented on the death of Bishop Evans, the 22-year-old National Guard Specialist who drowned trying to save two migrants.  I wanted to give you the opportunity to say some words on that.

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.  Thank you for that, Jacqui.  And the news of the confirmation that his body had been found was confirmed just a couple of hours ago.  I would note that, of course, our heart goes out to his family and to his loved ones. 

To confirm all the specific details, he went missing on Friday, following his selfless efforts to rescue two migrants who appeared to be drowning who were trying to cross a river in Mexico that went to the United States — went into the U.S., of course. 

We know that National Guard personnel, including — including him, risk their lives every day to serve and protect others.  And again, our hearts go out to his family. 

I don’t have any — in case you may ask, I don’t have any updates at this moment in terms of the President’s outreach, but if — if that is something I can update you on this afternoon, I will let you know. 

Q    Does the White House feel any responsibility for his death, given that there’s reporting that he lost his life allegedly trying to save two migrants who were smuggling drugs?  This is a problem that, you know, the administration has been facing for some time and is obviously, as we’ve been discussing, getting some criticism on.  Is — does the White House feel at all responsible?  And what — what more can you offer to people who, you know, are on the border, in border communities, who are experiencing loss and trials like this?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, of course, we are mourning the loss of his life and we are grateful for the work of every National Guardsman.  I would note that the National Guard worked for the states, and so he is an employee of the Tex- — Texas National Guard, and his efforts and his operation were directed by there, not by the federal government, in this — in this effort, in this apparatus.

We’ve — we’ve long stated that our immigration system is broken.  There needs to be more done to invest in smarter security, to have a more effective asylum processing system.  And we would welcome any efforts to — for any elected officials to work with us on that. 

Q    A lot of the border communities often, you know, say that they have requested more from — from the federal government — more manpower to help manage these kinds of — these kinds of issues.  Is that being looked at?  Is that being — is that being —

MS. PSAKI:  Can you give me a more specific request or a specific person or —

Q    Well, you mentioned that, you know, this — this Specialist was a National Guard.  Obviously, you know, the state is in charge of that.  States are in charge of that.  But there have been requests from the Texas governor, from — you know, to send more — you know, to help people who are in this position at the border, who are now trying to deal with an influx of migrants that they know is going to only increase, as you just mentioned, after Title 42 is lifted. 

You talked about having a humanitarian, you know, sort of, system in place to deal with people coming across and increase vaccinations and that kind of thing.  But in terms of, you know, law enforcement presence at the border.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would just say — if we just dial it back a few years to, kind of, what we inherited here — the former President invested billions of dollars in a border wall that was never going to work or be effective, instead of working towards comprehensive immigration reform. 

As part of the President’s proposal he put forward on his first day in office, he proposed investing in smarter security at the border — something he’d be happy to work with governors on.  And — and certainly we’re open to having that conversation whenever they’re ready to do that. 

Go ahead, Weijia.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  Just more broadly on the Ukrainian aid.

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

Q    Since the Russian invasion started, the U.S. has provided more than $5 billion total when you factor in military, economic, humanitarian aid.  Is there a figure that is a cap for what the U.S. is willing and able to provide Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say that the range of military assistance that we’ve provided to date was meant to be frontloaded because of our expectation or anticipation, led by our Department of Defense and military leaders, about the nature of the fight and how it has evolved, right?  That because they’re on a terrain now that — where they’re in need of long-range military capacity, we’ve tried to expedite the assistance over the past couple of weeks that they’re receiving.

So it might not be, over the next couple of weeks, the same size of assistance week by week.  But in terms of what the next package will look like and what will be passed, I mean, those are discussions and recommendations that the President will get from his military leaders.  We’ll have those discussions with Congress.  I’m not in a position to put a cap on it at this point in time. 

Q    Okay, got it.  And then just switching over to COVID.  The administration is planning to take new actions to expand Paxlovid.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah. 

Q    Is there anything you can share about how you plan to do that and who might be eligible, since right now it’s only for people who are at higher risk?

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Well, part of it is even people who are eligible are not taking advantage of the fact that they’re eligible.  So, part of our effort is to share more information publicly about who can get access, who can call their doctor and get access to it. 

I will tell you, Dr. Jha is going to make his debut in the briefing room tomorrow.  So, he will lay out for you and others more specifically all the steps we’re taking to increase knowledge of Paxlovid, who can benefit from it.

I don’t think we’re intending to — and I’ll let him speak to this — say there’s going to be an expansion of who’s eligible, as much as we’re — and I will, obviously, leave that to the health experts to determine — but more we need to focus on making sure that everybody who is eligible knows they’re eligible and they can get access to it, because it is very effective in treating COVID. 

Q    Thank you, Jen.

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.

Q    Yeah.  Just a couple on Twitter.  I wanted to go back and try again.  Are you concerned about the kind of purveyors of election misinformation, disinformation, health falsehoods, sort of, having more of an opportunity to speak there on Twitter?

Is there, you know, any message that you would convey to Elon Musk as the new owner?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would just —

Q    And, you know, I would maybe just add to it that, you know, public — publicly traded companies have different levels of — there’s different levels of scrutiny that are possible of publicly traded companies.  So, are you concerned about, you know, a billionaire taking control of a company that — where there’s already a lot of concentration of power?

MS. PSAKI:  I would say that our concerns are not new.  We’ve long talked about and the President has long talked about his concerns about the power of social media platforms, including Twitter and others, to spread misinformation, disinformation; the need for these platforms to be held accountable. 

While I know you tried again — I appreciate that — I still don’t have a specific comment on this specific transaction.  And at this point, we don’t have any sense of what the policies will look like. 

Q    Okay.  And then, last week, Daleep Singh made some very strong comments and also Treasury Secretary Yellen made some comments about the positive impact on inflation of lowering tariffs on certain Chinese goods — bicycles, underwear, apparel.  So —

MS. PSAKI:  It’s quite a list.

Q    Yeah, it was quite a list.  Is there something cooking?  Can you tell us something?  And do you notice the White House embracing that?  Is that something we could see happen soon?

MS. PSAKI:  So, from the beginning of the administration, we talked about how some of the tariffs implemented by the previous administration were not strategic and instead raised costs on Americans.  And our effort — which has been ongoing, of course — has been to ensure current Section 301 tariffs align appropriately with our economic and trade priorities. 

And you mentioned, you know, different goods that are sold.  But, of course, on wages and job opportunities; critical supply chains, where we see critic- — impacts on critical supply chains; our ability to sustain our technological edge — this is an ongoing process.

And we’re certainly looking at where we see costs being raised at a time where we’re seeing heightened inflation; certainly, that’s on our minds.  It’s also about addressing the core issues we have with how China has approached, you know, their engagement around economic issues as well. 

So, it’s both. 

Q    So, can we look for some tariff reductions in some relatively short period of time?

MS. PSAKI:  We’re continuing to review it.  I don’t have anything at this moment to preview for you, but our focus is on those same categories and areas: where we can impact — where we think they’re impacting wages and job opportunities, our technological edge.  That’s the prism through which our economic team — Ambassador Tai is, of course, leading this effort, is — is reviewing these sanctions. 

Q    And then, just a real quick one on Putin.  So, the sanctions that have been imposed — and I realize they’re quite sweeping and large, but on — especially on oligarchs and other people close to Putin — have thus far excluded his girlfriend, whose name I can’t quite pronounce — KayovaKayeva?  Do you have any comment on why you would refrain from sanctioning someone arguably close to Putin?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would remind you we’re continuing to review sanctions.  No one is safe from our sanctions.  We’ve already, of course, sanctioned President Putin, but also his daughter, his closest cronies, and we’ll continue to review more. 

So, I wouldn’t — I don’t have an analysis at this point because we’re still reviewing.  There’s more we will likely do. 

Go ahead.

Q    Jen, on just the broader strategy of helping Ukraine, there’s obviously hurting Russia economically, hurting Russia militarily.  Given that the U.S. has rolled out so many sanc- — economic sanctions already against Russia, and the heavy fighting that we’re seeing now, should we expect that the help that the U.S. offers Ukraine, going forward, would be more heavily, like, militarily focused as opposed to economic?  Or is that the wrong way of looking at it, as it’s sort of all of the above?

MS. PSAKI:  No, I understand your question.  I think these are all discussions that we’re having through the interagency, and there’ll be a recommendation made to the President. 

I mean, there’s no question they need additional military assistance.  As part of Secretary Austin’s follow-up to his trip to Ukraine, he was in Germany today meeting to discuss kind of the next steps and what their needs are as the — as the — as the battle and the war continues to evolve. 

But they are also going to have significant humanitarian and economic needs as well.  So I would expect that all of them will continue to be touched on.  But these are the discussions that are happening in the interagency process now. 

Q    And is there any new, updated U.S. assessment on any discontent or disagreement within Putin’s top advisors or inner circle about the direction of the war? 

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any assessment I can read out from here — or any new assessment.

Q    And just one more on a different topic — just on inflation, given that it continues to be such a big concern for so many people.  The President obviously doesn’t have the luxury of wandering outside the White House.  He can’t, you know, go fill up this car or go to the grocery store.  Can you give us a sense of how he sort of is updated every day, or how he gets a sense of how much does milk cost more today than a week ago?  Just how does he sort of keep up to date on how much more expensive things are for the average American?

MS. PSAKI:  I can assure you that the President sees himself as the kid from Scranton, more than many people who work in his administration, and he is often the person who reminds people and members of his policy team in meetings what the impacts of rising food costs or gasoline costs or other issues are.  He does request and receive regular updates from his economic team. 

And often, when he returns from weekends at home in Delaware, he comes back with conversations he had with people as he came out of church or, you know, as he — people he’s known for a long time in his community, and they often tell him about how these — how the rising costs impact his life. 

So I would say that he stays abreast of these changes and of these increases in costs and the impacts through economic data and briefings, but also through his own conversations whenever he can have them.

Q    Jen?  Jen? 

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.

Q    I have — I have a question here about — following the recent Palestinian terror attacks from the Temple Mount and previous week of attacks that have killed many Israelis and wounded more, is the Biden administration reconsidering its support of the Palestinian Authority’s two-state solution dividing Israel or stopping the welfare payments sent to the Palestinian Authority, who use the money for their pay-to-slay reward system?  And I have a follow-up question. 

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.  Well, I would just note that I spoke to this last week, on Wednesday, where I noted that the United States is deeply concerned by the recent violence in Jerusalem and the Temple Mount and across the We- — West Bank.  And we also strongly condemn the recent rocket attack on Israel. 

You may or may not have seen also that the President conducted a call with Prime Minister Bennett on Sunday morning.  He accepted an invitation by Prime Minister Bennett — Bennett to visit Israel in the coming months.  No specific date yet.  He took note of the ongoing efforts between Israeli and Palestinian officials to lower tensions and ensure a peaceful conclusion to the holy season of Ramadan. 

And he also affirmed our unwavering support for Israel and its defense needs and welcomed the historic $1 billion allocation to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome system. 

Q    Okay.  The follow-up is: In view of continued Palestinian violence against innocent civilians, is the Biden administration willing to stop payments to the anti-semitic U.N. agency, UNRWA, and support restoring the Jewish cemetery in Vilnius, Lithuania, to its former glory?

MS. PSAKI:  Again, I think — I don’t have any changes to announce to our policy.  I spoke to our condemnation of the violence just now as last — and last week as well, and noted also our call to the Prime Minister. 

Go ahead. 

Q    Thank you.

Q    Jen, a point of clarification on the aid that the U.S. has already allocated to Ukraine. 

MS. PSAKI:  Sure. 

Q    The President said last week that he had “almost exhausted” his drawdown ability.  So how much, after that announcement of the $800 million on Thursday, does the U.S. have left to provide Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m sure I can get you this specific, exact number.  It was almost about $3.5 billion total of drawdown authority, I believe.  I will double-check that number for you. 

So what he was referring to is: Because of how quickly we’ve been moving the military assistance to the Ukrainians on the ground, we anticipated being almost at a near end of that drawdown authority.  So that’s why he’s going to put forward a new package this week. 

Q    And on student debt cancellation: Yesterday, Senator Elizabeth Warren said that the White House has essentially already canceled some student debt by waiving interest on that student debt, and it could use that same exact authority to cancel student debt permanently.  Does the White House agree with that view?  This is about the authority, not whether you will but that you can derive the authority in the same exact way. 

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have anything to preview for you in terms of any authority and how — or how it would work.  What I would tell you is that not a single person in this country has paid a dime on student — federal student loans since the President took office.  And what we have said is that he would make a decision about any cancellation of student debt before the conclusion of that pause on student loans, but I don’t have anything to preview for you at this point in time.

Q    And a quick follow-up on that.  She said that it was “an issue of racial equity.”  Does the White House view this as a racial equity issue?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, I think the President views student loan relief, debt relief as something that impacts — yes, it is a racial equity issue, but it is also an issue that impacts many individuals — young people, middle-aged people — of all races.  It is something that he has — he has played — it has been a vital priority to the President, which again is why not a single person has played — paid a penny, a dime — a dime or a penny in student loans since he took office. 

Go — go — go ahead, JJ.  I don’t want to forget you.  Go ahead. 

Q    Oh, thanks.  Two questions on the supplemental funding — 

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    — and then one Cedric Richmond. 

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah. 

Q    On the supplemental, has the administration decided to definitely combine the COVID funding with the aid for Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI:  We don’t have the mechanism yet.  There’s — these are conversations that we’ll have with Congress. 

Obviously, prior to the recess, there was the proposal that did combine, but — but not — don’t have a — don’t have a sense yet. 

Q    Not quite yet. 

And then, is the White House considering extending the Title 42 immigration restrictions as part of a deal with Congress?  Are you considering it?

MS. PSAKI:  Again, this would be Congress having the discussion.  We’re continuing to prepare for a May 23rd implementation.  There’ll be a range of conversations about this over the coming days. 

Q    And then, the New York Times is reporting that Cedric Richmond is leaving.  Is he?  And just last week, he said publicly that he wouldn’t leave unless the President asked him to.  So, has something changed there?

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.  Okay.  Well, let me first say that Cedric Richmond has been, continues to be a vital, essential advisor to the President — was on the campaign, continues to be in the White House.  I have been in many meetings with Cedric Richmond, where the President goes to him and looks to him for his political sense, his assessment of Congress.  He trusts him implicitly. 

I have nothing to announce at this point, but I can assure you when we have something to announce, it will involve a new important role to — for Cedric Richmond and something the President is excited about and has asked him to do. 

Go ahead.

Q    Jen, we saw the readout — we saw the readout from the call with the French President.  Did the President see any larger meaning in the French elections in terms of the support of the Allied effort against Russia?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any assessment of that.  Can I — I’ll leave that to others to do analysis.  The President was pleased with the — with the outcome. 

As you know, he spoke with President Macron this morning, and he’s looking forward to continuing to work with him in standing up against Russian aggression and standing with the Ukrainian people.

Q    And Ron — just along those lines, Ron Klain tweeted, “An interesting observation…[that] President Macron…secured a double-digit victory…at a time when his approval rating is 36%.”  Was there anything he was suggesting with that?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any more analysis to provide on that front, though I appreciate the question. 

Go ahead. 

Q    On NATO, reports in Finland and Sweden say that the country — the two countries are preparing to apply to join NATO as early as next month.  Is the White House supportive of that effort?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, those are decisions for these countries to make and for the NATO Alliance to make.  And so we’ll leave it to those entities.

Q    And then, just on gun violence.  We learned more about Friday’s shooter today from D.C. police, who say he had hundreds of rounds of unspent ammo inside his Connecticut Avenue apartment.  And then, today, the D.C. mayor announced a new police initiative to target violent crime. 

Does the President believe he’s done all he can do to fight violent crime, gun issues around this country without the intervention of Congress?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, he will continue to look for every authority he has to take steps to address gun violence — violent crimes across the country. 

The last time we had data was in 2020, I believe.  And at that time, about 77 percent of homicides were done with a firearm.  And you saw him talk two weeks ago now — it’s all running together — but two weeks ago now, I believe, about ghost guns and the steps that he is going to continue to take to address ghost guns, which we have seen have a rising role in — in gun — in gun deaths and gun targeting over the past several months. 

I would also note that then, when he was doing that event, he highlighted that two LA sheriff’s deputies who have been wounded by a shooter using a ghost gun.  So that’s just even an example of how even they’re using — these ghost guns are being used to target police as well, which is also a problem. 

So, I would say, of course, there are significant steps that Congress can take that would make these laws permanent — that is the President’s first preference — whether it’s background checks, banning assault weapons.  These are laws that he has led the effort to pass throughout his career, many decades. 

But he will continue to look for any steps he can take using his own authorities, as he has done several times since taking office.  I think he’s done more than any other president using executive authority. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  Two questions for you.  President Biden made his first endorsement of the midterm election cycle on Saturday, endorsing Congressman Kurt Schrader.  Why did he decide to weigh in on this race first?  And what would he say to some progressives who are frustrated that he endorsed Schrader over his opponent?

MS. PSAKI:  I certainly understand your question.  I don’t make the rules, but the rules are I can’t speak a lot about politics from here.  So I would point you to the DNC, and I would point you to Congressman Schrader’s office.

Q    Second question for you: There’s been a fair bit of speculation about Vladimir Putin’s health based on recent videos of him.  Has the White House made an assessment on this matter?   And have concerns been raised internally at all about this topic?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any assessment for — to offer from here or any particular comment on the mental health of President Putin.

Go ahead.

Q    Jen, back to Title 42 quickly.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    I want to make sure I’m understanding what you’re saying today.  I hear you talking about discussions going forward, the debate that’s happening, all of that.  Are you saying that Title 42 — I know you’re prepared to lift the current policy on May 23rd.  Are you saying that will happen unless Congress acts?  Or are you saying the White House might do something else?

MS. PSAKI:  Congress would have to take action in order for the date not to be May 23rd.

Q    Okay.  On Hunter Biden: The New York Post is reporting — looking at White House visitor logs, there were 19 visits to the White House while the President was Vice President by Hunter Biden’s business partner, including one with the Vice President.  Could you help us understand why that business partner had access and what those meetings were about?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any information on that.  I’m happy to check and see if we have any more comment.

Q    And then, former Senator David Perdue, last night, hoping to be a senator again, opened his debate by saying that the election — 2020 election was rigged and stolen.  We know that every court — most courts — courts have ruled that it was fair, there’s no evidence of fraud.  But I wonder what you make of those comments.  And has the White House done enough to push back and to make it clear that the election was not stolen?

MS. PSAKI:  I think that speaks to the former President’s hold over factions of the Republican Party, not facts. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you so much, Jen.  Two questions on Brazil.  First, last Friday, President Biden said the United States and rich countries should be paying Brazil to protect the Amazon.  And he said he’s trying to get this done. 

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

Q    So what exactly is he trying to do?  Is he trying to work with other rich countries, negotiating with Brazil?  Is he ready to provide financial support to Brazil?  And how much would that be?

MS. PSAKI:  So the science — in the President’s view, and the reason he made these comments, is that the science has only become more clear that the world needs to both strengthen and accelerate emissions reductions.  And part of that goal is conser- — includes conserving global forest ecosystems that remove carbon from the atmosphere and store more carbon than they emit in a year, serving as carbon sinks. 

So President Biden recognized the necessity of mobilizing funding from the whole go- — from world governments and the private sector.  And the Plan to Conserve Global Forest: the Critical Carbon Sinks launched at COP26 aims to mobilize finance from the public and private sector, with a strong focus on levering [leveraging] private-sector finance through market mechanisms.  So that’s what he was speaking to and certainly an effort he continues to support.

Q    And there is a delegation today from the State Department in Brazil.  I wonder if this trip has anything to do with the war in Ukraine and perhaps the United States seeking or interested in working with Brazil food and energy security?

MS. PSAKI:  I would really point you to the State Department.  We are working with a range of countries, obviously, on addressing where we see any food shortages around the world.  And, obviously, Ukraine is front and center on the minds of most global leaders.

Q    And just a quick one: Why President Biden has declined to talk with President Bolsonaro?  We know that the Brazilian government its trying — been trying — try more than once.  So why is he declining to —

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any update.  The President obviously has a busy schedule.  He has spoken with a range of global leaders but not every single one, and you just noted the State Department is in Brazil for a visit.  So I would note we have an ongoing dialogue at a high level. 

Go ahead. 

Q    Yes, Jen — oh.

MS. PSAKI:  Oh, go ahead.

(Cross-talk by reporters.)

MS. PSAKI:  Oh, okay.  Either one.  Okay.  You’re kind of matching today, I’ll note.   Yeah, there you go.  In your suits —

Q    We got the memo.  (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI:  — in blue.

Q    Yeah, so, more people are starting to talk about recession.  Goldman Sachs and Bank of America alluded to it.  You — because of inflation.  The steps that have been taken so far haven’t seemed to work to get inflation to come back down.  What additional steps are you guys looking at to curb inflation as well as the feeling that the economy is headed in the wrong direction?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say, first, there are a number of strong economic indicators that we would point to.  We created more jobs last year than any year in American history.  The unemployment rate is at 3.6 percent.

We know that costs are too high.  Inflation, which the Federal Reserve has purview over, still projects that it will moderate by the end of the year.  There are a number of steps they have and they have indicated they have in — the plans to recalibrate.  We support that effort.  They have a lot of power here, in terms of taking steps to address inflation. 

We are not — the President is not waiting for that to happen, and he is taking steps to address where we see costs increasing in different areas that impact the American people’s pocketbooks.  Whether it’s gas prices — obviously, he made an announcement to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve; led the global release — led an effort to release from the — globally to bring down gas prices. 

We’ve also taken steps to fix issues with our supply chain to make sure goods are moving as quickly as possible.  And there’s a lot of interest — continues to be in Congress — to take steps to lower costs on prescription drugs, healthcare, eldercare, childcare.  Those are all steps that are based on the President’s proposals.

Q    (Inaudible) the President has pushed those spending proposals.  The San Francisco Federal Reserve released a report —

MS. PSAKI:  They’d be fully paid for, so they’re not actually spending proposals; they’re proposals to lower costs that are fully paid for.

Q    The San Francisco Federal Reserve released a report saying that government spending accounted for 3 percent of the inflation that we’re seeing now.  So is spending more really the way to go?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, I think if you look back at where we were a year and a half ago, we were at the point where there was a significant economic downturn; where people were really suffering, struggling to put food on the table; strug- — people were out of work.  And what we’ve done — what we did at that time is take steps to help stem that economic downturn.  And that was a decision made that the President continues to believe was in the interest of the American people.

Q    One last quick one on China — the — looking at more lockdowns.  Now Beijing may be involved in that.  Is there anything that the administration is looking at doing to help the supply chains if this clogs up again?

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.  So, we’re — we’re — we’re following this very closely.  And as you know, there are a couple of different issues at play here.  There’s obviously Shenzhen, which has kind of reopened, and they had moved around where their goods were being produced and moved around which ports they were going through.  Shanghai, obviously.  And there were a couple of industries that were being impacted. 

We haven’t seen, at this point, a decrease in ships coming to our ports in California from Asia.  We obviously are continuing to monitor that.  And Beijing is — has increased their testing, which could be a precursor to a lockdown, but we don’t — we don’t know at this point. 

So what we’re doing right now is we’re closely monitoring — the State Department is, our economic team is.  And — but we haven’t seen a slowdown in ships coming to our ports in California.

If there is an increase as lockdowns decrease in some parts of China, we’ll also be prepared for that, because we’ve been able to take steps to reduce the number of cargo ships there.

Go ahead.

Q    Just one question, Jen.  There’s been — there’s been a lot of explosions and strange fires at quite significant places in Russia over the last couple of weeks, just most recently in the city of Bryansk.  Its oil containers blew up.  There’s a lot of speculation over what’s causing it.  And, obviously, one of the theories would be that Ukraine somehow doing it. 

What is the U.S. position on Ukraine attacking inside Russian territory?  Is this something that U.S. is encour- — would encourage them to do and try and help them do it — you know, in terms of weapons?  Or is it something maybe where you’d advise the Ukrainians not to go there?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t — we don’t have any confirmation of that.  Ukraine is defending their own country, so I’m just not going to speak to a hypothetical.

Q    Yeah, no, I’m not asking for confirmation on things that have happened.  It’s just there’s obviously a lot of speculation.  And it’s kind of an obvious point, right?  Like, they’re fighting the Russians tooth and nail inside their own country, quite often near the borders, and the Russians are inside their country.  So, is there a U.S. position on — on whether the Ukrainians should have the right or maybe even be encouraged to take their fight beyond their border?

MS. PSAKI:  Again, that is a hypothetical, so I’m not going to speak to it.  Ukraine’s country is being invaded.  Russia is invading their country.  That’s what we’re supporting them for.  And there’s been no confirmation of what you’re detailing.  So I’m just not going to speak to it.

Go ahead.

Q    If I may, just — we know that Congressional Hispanic Caucus members are here meeting with the President.  I wonder if immigration and also Title 42 is being discussed.  And I don’t know how much you can reveal about that meeting that is taking place this afternoon.

MS. PSAKI:  So I don’t have a readout of the meeting at this point in time.  I would note that this is part of the series of meetings, as I noted earlier, that the President is doing with a range of the caucuses in Congress.  He did the Congressional Black Caucus, he did CAPAC, and he did these last year as well. 

So we certainly expect immigration to be a topic of discussion, but I would note that the CHC also has a stated position on Title 42 as a caucus, which is that they oppose any change to the decisions that been — that has been made.  So anything could be discussed, but I wouldn’t anticipate that being a topic — a major topic.

Q    If I may on Transdniestria —

MS. PSAKI:  Sorry, Matt.  I’ll come to you next.  Go ahead.

Q    If I may, on Transdniestria —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    — there appears to have been some kind of attack on the ministry of state security.  We know that Moscow has been talking about this area possibly entering the conflict.  It seemed — it happened on a holiday when there wouldn’t have been people in the building.  Does this bear the hallmarks of a false-flag operation of the sort that you’ve been warning us about?

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah, I’ve seen the reports.  I don’t — obviously we have, of course — but I have — I don’t have any confirmation of the specifics or the details at this point in time from here.

Go ahead, Matt.  Matt, did you have a question?

Q    Yeah. I just have two.  The first is: With the CHC coming —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    — some have wanted Biden — the administration to do more on executive actions related to immigration.  And, I guess, just philosophically, does the President believe that he’s exhausted most of the things that he can do through executive power?  You had alluded earlier about the legislative push —

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

Q    — but are there things that he feels like he could still do it through executive actions related to immigration?

MS. PSAKI:   I mean, I think his view is that taking steps and working with Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform that has smarter security, that does put in place an asylum processing system that works is the best step that will have a lasting impact. 

Obviously, we’re continuing to assess any executive actions we can take, but he’ll, I think, continue to discuss legislative actions as well.

Q    And then, secondly, you had mentioned this at the top — about the toxic exposures and that the President wants comprehensive — for the comprehensive legislation to be passed.  The House has passed a version related to this; the Senate has passed a version. 

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    The Senate version is sometimes criticized by advocates as not going far enough.  So, does the President have a stance on which piece of legislation he views as addressing this issue comprehensively?  Is he getting involved in that? There’s other legislation that’s — that hasn’t been passed in the Senate that also grapples with this issue.

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  I mean, obviously, as you know, now the next step is for both bodies of Congress to work together and figure out the path forward.  We did issue a SAP on the PACT Act.  So beyond that, I don’t think I have anything more to update you on, on the position.

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  I had a question on Title 42.  At the risk of this being a dumb question: So if the CDC is able to extend Title 42, why is it up to Congress?  Can you just help people understand why it’s on Congress to extend it and how (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Congress gave the CDC authority to determine when the conditions would be met to lift Title 42, which again, has never been an immigration authority or an immigration policy; it’s always been a health authority. 

So when they determined we no longer had the conditions where we had to take action to quickly deport people who came to the country, they made that health decision based on data and science and the CDC decision-making.  Congress would need to make any decision about a change to the authority they gave the CDC. 

Q    So the CDC doesn’t have the authority to just say, “Things have changed –”? 

MS. PSAKI:  If the health and data conditions change, they could certainly make a different decision, I supp- — sure.  But they make decisions based on health and data, not based on politics or where members of Congress sit.

Q    Another coronavirus —

MS. PSAKI:  (Inaudible.)

Q    And, actually, a follow-up on that question and something that was asked earlier.  Does the — is the President willing to sign something if it comes to his desk as part of a legislative package that would change the rules for how Title 42 is administered?  Because if it is, in fact — it is up to Congress ultimately, that would get to the President’s desk and he would ultimately have to either sign it or veto it.  Is —

MS. PSAKI:  There’s a lot of steps between now and then.  So, at this point, that’s very premature.  There are many members who strongly would like to see Title 42 extended.  There are many who strongly have the other point of view.  So, we are not anywhere near that point in time.

Go ahead.

Q    Jen, the Surgeon General has said that misinformation about COVID amounts to a public health crisis. 

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    I’m wondering: Regardless of ownership, would the White House be interested in working with Twitter like it has in the past to continue to combat this kind of misinformation?  Or are we in a different part of the pandemic where that kind of partnership is no longer necessary?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think we engage regularly with all social media platforms about steps that can be taken that has continued, and I’m sure it will continue.  But there are also reforms that we think Congress could take and we would support taking, including reforming Section 230, enacting antitrust reforms, requiring more transparency.  And the President is encouraged by the bipartisan support for — or engagement in those efforts.

Q    Jen, on the U.S. and its allies in the Pacific: They’re clearly being blindsided by China’s security pact with the Solomon Islands, a very strategic location in the Pacific.  Kurt Campbell was down there only last week, and he announced some initiatives on, you know, speeding up the embassy there —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    — and they’re sending a hospital boat, that sort of thing.  The question is: Why wouldn’t you — why wouldn’t the U.S. commit to far more significant security/military initiatives in such a strategic place like that? 

And also, I wonder what would the Biden administration want from other countries.  Australia hasn’t exactly been very well prepared for this Chinese-Solomon agreement either.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah, it’s a great group of questions.  I have not talked to Kurt Campbell about this since he returned.  I’m not sure if the President has.  I can — I can see if there’s anything more we can update you on, on our policies.

Q    Thank you.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  I wanted to —

Q    The President has issued a statement on malaria.  Do you — the President just issued a statement on malaria today.  Since the time you started speaking, almost a hundred children have died of malaria.  It said two — children — a child dies every two minutes of malaria.  Is the President prepared to increase funding, maybe fight malaria the same way the U.S. has been fighting COVID?

MS. PSAKI:  It’s obviously something the President cares deeply about, as we do as an administration.  I don’t have anything for you in terms of predictions of additional funding.  I can see if there’s anything more from USAID. 

Go ahead.

Q    On the coronavirus —

Q    On the TPS, I know the administration has just granted TPS to Cameroonian living in the U.S.  Why not extend it Ethiopia and Nigeria, other African countries that are also in crisis?

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah, I know you’ve asked me a similar question before.  It’s an effort or a process led by the Department of Homeland Security to make a determination about conditions on the ground and an interagency process.  I don’t — I don’t have anything to predict at this point.  Obviously, they’re continuing to assess.

Q    I wanted to ask about your announcement from last week on refugees from Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    I know you’re supposed to open the portal for applications today from DHS.

MS. PSAKI:  Yep.

Q    Can you talk about how you’re preparing the resources to be able to accept what I’m sure is going to be a big influx of applications as soon as that portal opens?

MS. PSAKI:  So the Department of Homeland Security is going to do a briefing this afternoon for more — with more details to provide to you.  And, obviously, they will oversee the process.  And you’re right, we certainly anticipate lots of interest on both sides.

Q    Thanks, Jen.

Q    Will there be someone in the White House — I know when you were working on Operation Afghans [sic] Welcome —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    — there was someone in charge of it from this end.  Is there going to be someone over here that’s working on it?

MS. PSAKI:   Sure.  Obviously, Russia and Ukraine, and implementing all of our programs, is a top priority for the national security team.  I’ll see if there is one individual who will be responsible.

Thanks so much.

4:08 P.M. EDT

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