Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki and White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:09 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.
Q Hi. How are you?
MS. PSAKI: Great. Okay. Today, as promised, we have the premiere of Dr. Ashish Jha, our new White House COVID Response Coordinator, in the briefing room.
Dr. Jha will be talking about two important pieces of work in our — we are working on with Congress: first, expanding access to lifesaving COVID-19 treatments; and second, our urgent need for funding from Congress.
He has time just to take a very small number of questions today, but he will be — come back af- — soon, I’m sure.
So, with that, I will turn it over to him, and then we’ll proceed with a normal briefing.
DR. JHA: Good afternoon, everybody.
Q Good afternoon.
DR. JHA: All right. Well, it’s great to be with all of you. A little exciting and a little scary to be with this crowd. (Laughter.)
So I want to take a minute to talk about where we are with the pandemic. We are — I believe we are at an inflection point. On one hand, we know that BA.2, the subvariant of Omicron, has become dominant; cases are rising across the country. But hospitalizations are at the lowest level of the pandemic — right? — and deaths are continuing to fall.
We’re down to about 300 deaths a day — still too many, still too high, but doing so much for the — better than we have throughout much of this pandemic.
Despite all of that progress — and I think a lot of that is driven by the fact that we have more than 200 million Americans vaccinated, more than 100 million Americans boosted — we know this virus is tricky.
We know that the risk of potential surges, even of a potential new variant, remains out there.
The good news is we are at a point where we have a lot more capabilities, a lot more tools to protect the American people: testing, vaccines, therapeutics. These are the — sort of the pillars of how we manage the rest of this pandemic.
And that’s why what I want to do is spend some time talking to you about those tools, about our capabilities, what we’re doing as an administration, and what we need from Congress to continue to protect the American people.
So, first, I want to talk about Paxlovid, the — the therapy that is become — is becoming increasingly available to the American people.
For those of you who have not followed this very closely, Paxlovid became authorized by the FDA in late December. At that point, there was just a very limited supply of these pills.
The clinical data suggests that it has an enormously beneficial impact, reduces hospitalizations by more than 90 percent, and is very, very effective at preventing severe disease.
Over the last few months, the administration has worked very hard with Pfizer to increase the supply of Paxlovid and acquire more and more doses for the American people.
And now our job is to make sure that these doses are getting out there and they’re getting into — into the hands of patients who would benefit from them.
So, what are we doing? And I want to talk about four major things.
The first is: We are opening up the number of sites that can order directly from the federal government supplies of Paxlovid.
Until — until this recent change, the way pharmacies got Paxlovid — either you were a Test to Treat site or you got it from your state. But now we’re opening up a federal ha- — a federal pharmacy channel. And what that means is pharmacies can order directly from the federal government.
Currently, there are about 20,000 sites in the United States that carry Paxlovid. We expect with this change that we will very quickly get to 30,000. And within the next couple of weeks, I expect us to get to about 40,000 sites.
Paxlovid will be widely available everywhere in America. That’s going to help a lot.
The second is: The President announced the Test to Treat effort that we have launched. Right now, there are about 2,200 Test to Treat sites across the country. And we are going to make a series of efforts to expand the number of Test to Treat sites, including new federal initiatives that will allow for us to build on other federal testing sites to allow for — for those to also have a treatment component. So if you test positive, you can go and get treated with Paxlovid, of course if you are eligible and deemed so by a — by a provider.
Third is: We really are doubling down on our communication and education efforts with physicians and other prescribers.
In the beginning, when the — when the — when Paxlovid first became available, the word on the street was these things are not widely available, you should restrict it to the highest risk patients. Too many physicians still have that mindset, and what we need to do is to help American physicians and nurse practitioners and others who can prescribe understand that we now have plenty available. And anybody who is eligible, anybody who’s high risk, should be getting Paxlovid, obviously based — as long as they meet the clinical criteria. And so that education campaign is going to be really important.
And then last but certainly not least is we’re ramping up our public awareness campaign so that patients also understand that if they test positive, they should consider going to a Test to Treat site or reach out to their physician, but to get assessed for whether Paxlovid would be useful for them.
Those are all really critical steps that I think are going to make an enormous difference in getting more Paxlovid out to the community, to getting it out to patients. And with a very simple goal — right? — which is we want to lower the severity of the disease that people get if they get infected, and we want to lower hospitalizations, we want to lower deaths.
Paxlovid is a really important step in our ability to fight this pandemic.
Treatments like these vaccines that we have developed –these are the key, essential tools that we’re going to need to get through the rest of this pandemic. And that’s the second part of the conversation I want to have with all of you, because all of this requires funding from Congress.
So far, Congress has not stepped up to provide the funds that are needed for our most urgent needs.
Now, I know they were off on a two-week recess; they are back. I’m looking forward to working with Congress — we all are — to get the funding needs of the American people met on this — on the issue of COVID and COVID treatments.
Let me give you a couple of concrete examples of what will happen if we do not get the funding we need.
You may have heard, if you’ve been tracking this, that FDA is working with Moderna and Pfizer, looking at what the next generation of vaccines may look like. And it is possible that we may get a whole new generation of vaccines in the fall or winter that may be more effective and more durable.
None of those are going to be available to the American people if we don’t get more funding.
We are tracking new treatments that are coming online that are as effective, maybe even more effective, with fewer side effects. Those treatments will not be available to Americans because other countries are stepping up and making purchases for those treatments while we await funding from Congress.
The bottom line is that none of us can predict with any certainty where exactly this pandemic is going, what the virus is going to do next. All we can do is prepare. And that’s what we need Congress to do, is to help us prepare and be ready for whatever eventuality comes.
Let me make one last point that I want to — think is incredibly important, and that is that there are some people in this country who sometimes think that we can take a domestic-only approach to a global pandemic. That’s not a thing. You can’t do that.
If we’re going to fight a global pandemic, we have to have a global approach. That means we need funding to ensure that we’re getting shots in arms around the world.
The President and his leadership has enabled us to now have plenty of vaccines for the world. But vaccines don’t save lives, right? Vaccinations do. We have got to finish the job. We’ve got to get the resources we need to get shots in arms so we can actually vaccinate the world and help bring this pandemic to a close.
So those are — those are the essential things that are in front of us. This will require a partnership between the administration and Congress. I am confident that Congress will deliver for the American people. And I look forward to working with them on that. Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Chris.
DR. JHA: Every time a high-profile person, like the Vice President, catches COVID, there’s more attention on the infection. For Americans following that news, what lessons should they draw from that experience if somebody as protected as her has caught COVID?
DR. JHA: Good question. So I think if you take a step back and look at the Vice President, she is boosted — she’s actually twice boosted. Right?
We have a very, very contagious variant out there. It is going to be hard to ensure that no one gets COVID in America. That’s not even a policy goal.
The goal of our policies should be, obviously, minimize infections whenever possible, but to make sure people don’t get seriously ill.
The best ways of doing that are making sure people are vaccinated and boosted, as the Vice President is, and making sure we have plenty of therapeutics so, you know — so that that is available as well. And that, to me, is the key lesson here.
Q Has she received any therapeutics? Since we’re on the topic of therapeutics.
DR. JHA: You know, that’s a conversation that she’s having with her physician. I’m not her physician; I’m not privy to those conversations. So I don’t know the answer to that.
MS. PSAKI: Cecilia.
Q Thank you, Dr. Jha. Welcome to the briefing room, by the way.
DR. JHA: Thank you.
Q To your point that so many Americans can and will get this: In this report that just came out today, that 60 percent of Americans have had — it appears have had COVID, the President is getting ready to ramp up his travel schedule; the Vice President just caught it. She’s twice boosted. Should Americans be prepared for a time when President Biden gets this? Is it just a matter of time that the President could get COVID?
DR. JHA: I wouldn’t say it’s “just a matter of time.” But of course, it is possible that the President, like any other American, could get COVID.
The bottom line is: He is vaccinated and boosted. He is very well protected. He’s got very good protocols around him to protect him from getting infected. But there is no 100 percent anything. And I think the key focus has got to be: We got to continue protecting the President. That’s what the protocols around him are designed to do.
Yeah, let me just — let me leave it at that.
MS. PSAKI: Tam.
Q Yeah. Part of the congressional funding is to potentially deal with the uninsured fund that has run out of money. What does the uninsured fund, not having any money in it, mean for Paxlovid? Or if someone who’s uninsured gets COVID right now, what does that mean for them?
DR. JHA: Yeah, so first of all, Paxlovid itself will be free, because the —
Q They have to see a doctor? Or —
DR. JHA: They have to see a — someone who can actually prescribe it for them. And this is — one of the absolutely critical things in a pandemic is that people need to be able to access healthcare. It turns out it’s also critical not in a pandemic. Right?
But — but particularly in a pandemic with an infectious disease, it’s really important that people be able to access healthcare services, get the care they need. It’s good for them; it’s good for people around them. And so, making sure uninsured people have access is absolutely critical.
Q So, right now, what does that look like? If someone gets COVID and they’re uninsured, are they able to get treatment? Are they able to get tests? Or does CVS just eat the cost? How does that work right now?
DR. JHA: So, I think, right now, because we don’t have the funding, there’s a little bit of patchwork of what is happening. There are obviously places that serve uninsured people — community health centers, others people can get care. There are still — people are still going to CVS and other places that still are offering those services. But that’s not a sustainable solution. Right?
So, right now, we’re in this kind of middle ground where people are still getting care. But over time, if Congress continues to not fund these urgent priorities, it’s going to get harder and harder for people to access care.
MS. PSAKI: Kristen.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: This will be the last one too. I apologize. He’ll be back soon.
Q Thank you, Dr. Jha. Thank you so much for being here. Just a couple of questions. One, can you tell us: Was President Biden tested today, and has he tested negative? Do we know the last time he tested negative?
DR. JHA: I don’t know. I’m not involved in the President’s testing protocols. So I am — I just don’t know the answer to the question.
Q Do you —
MS. PSAKI: He was tested yesterday, and he tested negative.
Q Okay. Thank you. On Paxlovid, I just want to be crystal clear, because you’re trying to expand access to it, but you still say “if people meet the medical requirements.”
DR. JHA: Yeah.
Q Does that mean that Paxlovid should only be taken by people of a certain age and who are immunocompromised, or that it should be taken by anyone who has symptoms?
DR. JHA: No. So — so, neither. FDA has laid out a very clear set of criteria for who should get Paxlovid, and, very basically, it’s anybody who’s at high risk of developing complications. And the FDA points to a CDC assessment. It’s a — it’s a long list. I can read it all to you, but, of course, age is important, presence of chronic diseases.
But the bottom line is that — and what I am recommending to family and friends is — if you get COVID, you should see a provider and make that assessment with your provider. A lot more people are eligible and bene- — would benefit than I think people think.
Q And just very quickly, can you help us to understand this moment that we are in? Because on the one hand, cases are going up, particularly on the East Coast. As you have said, hospitalization and deaths are going down. But is the country in the midst of a surge?
DR. JHA: What I would say is, you know, we are going to see cases go up and go down during this pandemic as we — as we head into the mont- — weeks, months, and years ahead.
The key things that we need to be following are: “Are healthcare systems getting stressed?” “Are people ending up in the hospital with severe illness?” Obviously, “Are people dying at high rates?” Those are the — in my mind, the most important metrics.
And right now, while infection numbers are rising — and, of course, we all want to see infection numbers coming down — the good news is, because of the extraordinary work of this administration, we’ve got Americans much better protected. And that means that we’re not seeing a huge bump in hospitalizations, that deaths are still declining. Obviously, we want to continue tracking those metrics.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, Dr. Jha. You’re invited anytime.
DR. JHA: All right. Thank you, everybody.
Q Thanks, Dr. Jha.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you.
Okay, a couple items at the top.
Today — we announced this morning that during Second Chance Month, President Biden made a number of announcements focused on second chances and reentry, which, as leaders on both sides of the aisle recognize, will help prevent and reduce crime and strengthen our communities.
The President announced 75 sentence commutations and 3 full pardons. All of these individuals were convicted of non-violent drug offenses, and many have been successfully serving their time on home confinement.
He also announced more than 20 major actions from a dozen agencies to expand second-chance opportunities. This includes a first-of-its-kind partnership between the Department of Justice and the Department of Labor to invest $145 million in job training and intensive reentry in federal prisons. It also includes steps that will make more incarcerated students eligible for Pell Grants, make it easier for those who were incarcerated to enroll in Medicare, and help formerly incarcerated veterans get their benefits restored.
As we speak, Susan Rice, Dana Remus, and Cedric Richmond are holding a virtual roundtable with six formerly incarcerated individuals to discuss the President’s first clemency announcement, the new reentry policies and programs we announced today.
Today’s announcement mark import- — marks important progress, and we will continue to review — the President will continue to review clemency petitions and deliver reforms that advance equal justice and public safety.
I also wanted to note that, today, Secretary Austin — you may have seen — hosted a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Consultative Group with ministers of defense and chiefs of defense from more than 40 countries at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
The goal is to bring together countries from around the world for a series of meetings on the latest Ukraine defense needs to help Ukraine win the fight against Russia’s unjust invasion, and to help Ukraine’s defenses for tomorrow’s challenges.
As Secretary Austin said, it was an important and constructive day. Agenda topics today included near-time — near-term priorities and longer-term planning; the latest battlefield assessments of the renewed Russian offensive; establishing a framework for prioritizing requirements and logistics for resupply; and energizing the defense industrial base to continue the steady flow of security assistance.
More than 30 countries have now stepped up to meet Ukraine’s urgent needs and have committed more than $5 billion of equipment, including $3.7 billion from the United States, to support Ukraine’s defenses.
We also wanted to welcome an important announcement by our German allies today to send Ukraine some 50 Cheetah anti-aircraft systems.
We would also highlight the British government’s announcement yesterday that it will provide Ukraine with additional anti-aircraft capabilities and Canada’s announcement that it will send Ukraine armored vehicles.
I believe that’s it. Why don’t we jump around to people who didn’t get questions initially.
Q Thanks, Jen. A quick question on Dr. Jha talking about cases going up and the VP testing positive. Can you talk a little bit about whether the administration and society as a whole perhaps have moved away a bit too quickly from mitigation efforts such as masking? And is the administration perhaps thinking about strengthening any of those measures, especially the ones that were loosened?
MS. PSAKI: Well, those decisions and those recommendations are made by the CDC and our public health officials. So I don’t have anything to preview for you. Those are decisions that they make, and we obviously abide by that from here.
I’d remind you that their recommendations include — are based on what zone of the country you live in — right? — whether it is a green zone, a yellow zone, or a zone that has a higher rate. And they continue to recommend masking on transportation on fed- — you know, that we — and we abide by that from here as well.
So, I don’t have any changes on that to preview.
But as Dr. Jha noted, our focus — and as we noted when we rolled out our 100-page plan — continues to be on tracking and reducing hospitalizations and deaths. And we’re certainly aware that a very — with a very transmissible variant, that there — we expect that there could be case increases, as we’ve seen over the last few weeks with BA.2.
Q So, even in the regions that are witnessing a surge, I mean, there is — there are no discussions that perhaps you can talk about — about, you know, what these latest, sort of, surge in cases could potentially lead to?
MS. PSAKI: Well, but masking requirements change depending on what the numbers look like in your community.
Q Right. Okay. And a quick one on the EU. Reuters is reporting that the EU plans to declare that it is entering a new post-emergency phase for COVID. Given, sort of, the uptick in cases in the U.S., I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about that timing. I mean, is that unusual? Or do you think it is the right time for the — for countries around the world to be headed towards that goal, and if the U.S. is perhaps considering announcing something similar going forward?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t — you mean an end of the emergency? I don’t have anything to preview. Again, those recommendations are made by our public health and medical experts, so we rely on them for their guidance on that.
Q And can I ask one on Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q So, just earlier today, the announcement from Germany on a new package for heavier weapons —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q That obviously comes, you know, as Russia has said that such assistance would lead to a nuclear war. And it sort of seemed like the U.S. was brushing off Russia’s recent nuclear threat. And I’m wondering if the administration — to what extent is it really taking this latest threat seriously?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you heard some of our national security officials make clear there’s no winning a nuclear war. And obviously, our objective continues to be to call on reducing the rhetoric, on taking the rhetoric on that front down.
And I think there have been some officials who have abided by that. But I would note that the announcement by Germany is in line with announcements we’ve seen by a number of European countries in providing assistance they have never before provided, which is part of the significance here.
So, this is an unprecedented change to provide lethal aid to another country, and that’s the significance here from Germany. But I’d also note that Norway provided Mistral anti-air missiles, that a number of countries have provided types of assistance that they have never done in the past. And that really speaks to the signi- — the unity of NATO, of European countries in confronting what we see as, of course, a horrific war in Ukraine launched by the Russians.
Q Is it possible that there might be any updates to protocols — COVID protocols within the White House in light of Vice President Harris testing positive for COVID?
MS. PSAKI: I would not expect that, no.
Q So there have been no discussions, and you don’t expect that for the time being?
MS. PSAKI: I think it’s important to remember that we have stringent protocols here that go over and above CDC recommendations, even as it relates to how long you stay at home if you test positive. So, individuals who test positive for — here — and I can speak to this two times over. (Laughter.) There you go. You don’t return to work until you have — you have received a negative test. If that is before 10 days, you are still going to be masking. That is beyond what CDC protocols are.
There’s a regular testing cadence. Obviously, the Vice President was tested this morning because of that regular testing cadence. And for the rest of us, anyone who’s going to be around the President, to travel with him, to see him in the Oval Office is tested that day. And even if you’re not going to see him, you’re on a regular testing cadence around here.
We also take the step to socially distance in meetings as frequently as we can. And also, a number of us have chosen to wear masks in meetings as well just as an additional step and protocol.
So those have been in place prior to today, and we will continue to abide by those moving forward.
Q And just on a different topic: Senator Manchin told reporters this morning that there is not a Build Back Better revival. He said that social spending programs, he believes, should go through a regular order, not through the reconciliation process. I wondered if you could explain just from the White House’s perspective how you all are thinking about reconciliation versus regular order, in terms of wanting to get done some of the President’s top legislative priorities.
MS. PSAKI: Well, you’ve heard the President say many times that he believes that a lot of the objectives he has should be achievable through bipartisan work together. It’s not Democrats to — you know, Democrats shouldn’t be able to own efforts to reduce prescription drug costs or the ability to negotiate the price of prescription drugs, nor should we be the ones completely owning, on our own, efforts to lower the cost of childcare or healthcare. Those aren’t Democratic ideals. Those should be — those are — those are proposals that are broadly supported by many Americans across the country.
So, we — we know that Senator Manchin has, of course, talked about his efforts to pursue a bipartisan package or bipartisan plan as it relates to energy costs, and we’re not going to prejudge that effort. But we’re going to continue to engage with a broad range of Democrats, including, of course, Senator Manchin about how to get the President’s agenda done.
Q And is there anything you can tell us about the President’s schedule today? There wasn’t anything publicly announced. Is he in touch with members of Congress, particularly since they’re coming back this week?
MS. PSAKI: I expect he will have a range of conversations and engagements with members of Congress. He also has a range of internal meetings, policy meetings, planning meetings. There’s nothing more I can preview on that from here. But if — if there’s more I can tell you after the briefing, I’m happy to do that.
Go ahead, Weijia.
Q Thanks, Jen. I’ll start with something else Senator Manchin said —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — since we’re just talking about him. He said today: We need an immigration policy, and Title 42 should not be done away with until we get an immigration policy or until the CDC basically says we no longer have a health crisis. What does it say about the communication with members of the President’s own party that Senator Manchin believes that Title 42 is an immigration tool?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I can’t speak to that necessarily. I can tell you that — what it is and isn’t. It is not an immigration tool; it is a health authority and one the CDC — our health experts, of course — do have authority to make a decision about. And they’ve made the decision that the conditions no longer exist to keep Title 42 in place.
We do agree with him. Absolutely, there should be an immigration policy, and there should be immigration reforms, and they are long overdue. And we’d love to work with him and any other members on moving that forward.
Q Does it concern you that he’s saying that Title 42 should not be done away with until there is an immigration policy?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s just not how it works. Obviously, Title 42 is — the authority was given to the CDC by Congress. They made a decision. If Congress wants to decide — make any decisions about the next steps for Title 42, they can work together on that. But that is an authority or a decision that have to — would have to lay in the body that he works in.
Q And then —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.
Q — I have a follow-up on what Dr. Jha said about Test to Treat sites.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q What is the administration doing to expand those sites, including converting some testing sites to have a treatment component? What are the challenges to that? And do you have any timeframe for when you expect to ramp up those facilities?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. It’s a really good question, Weijia. I’ll probably have to talk to Dr. Jha and others from the healthcare team about it. And next time, he’ll take more questions, I promise.
You are right, there are some challenges, just like any aspect of applying COVID policy or COVID treatment policies or COVID — efforts to fight COVID policies, in that we have to educate a large swatch of public, including healthcare providers, about this works or how it would work. There is continued efforts to do that, but I’m happy to check with them on expansion plans or how that might work.
Q And then just one more quick one on vaccines for children under five.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q The group Protect their Future is just one of many groups that are urging the FDA to consider Moderna’s application for an EUA before June, which is when Pfizer will also submit theirs. What is your response to these groups who are concerned that appears — concerned that it appears the administration is doing Pfizer a favor by waiting to consider both Moderna and Pfizer at the same time, when Moderna’s data is already ready for review by the end of this week?
MS. PSAKI: I’d really point you to the FDA for their decision-making process. But I would tell you that, of course, as a parent of a child under five, I’m eager to have vaccines approved and available, and I want to make sure they go through the proper protocols and process. But I would point you to the FDA.
Q And on clemency —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — there are 18,000 petitions pending for clemency.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Is the President planning to increase his pace for consideration as he talked about possibly doing? And also, is there consideration about a permanent clemency review process that would, you know, kind of institutionalize this process going forward?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me — it’s important to note that the President has issued more sentence commutations at this early point in his presidency than any of the la- — his last five predecessors at the same point in their first terms.
So we are far ahead of anyone, any of the last five Presidents. That is because this is a priority to the President. And as I noted, when I — at the top of this briefing, he feels this is — second chances are important, and he believes this is absolutely a right step in our justice system.
He is — he’s going to continue to review clemency petitions, and that is going to be an ongoing process. That is, of course, run through our Counsel’s Office. So it doesn’t stop here; it will be ongoing, and there will be more in the future.
Q Thank you, Jen. On Title 42, we’ve heard you guys say that this is a public health order, it’s not an immigration order, it’s the CDC’s decision. But yesterday, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, who met with the President, relayed some of what he expressed in that meeting. And one of them said that the President told the group that he was looking forward to lifting Title 42, describing it as an excuse to keep people out of the country and anti-immigrant. Is the President really wanting Title 42 to go away because it was a Trump-era policy?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President has never felt that Title 42 was a — an effective immigration policy, and he talked about that during the campaign. But the authority has always rested in the CDC to make that determination. And he left the CDC to make that determination, unlike his predecessor, about a range of decisions.
So, the President has never — never made a secret of the fact that he thinks immigration reform is necessary and that Title 42 was never a replacement for comprehensive immigration reform that would put in place smarter security, that would ensure there was an asylum processing system that worked. And that is something he would be eager to work with anyone on to get done.
Q So if this — conditions warranted it, would the White House want to see the CDC reimpose Title 42 in the instance that the cases are up and the metrics that they use to measure that warrant that decision?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the CDC, again, has the authority to make a determination about what the health conditions warrant, so we will leave it to them to make any decisions or recommendations.
Q And then, with the Vice President being out — obviously, she’s broken a lot of ties for votes — and then we have senators; I believe Warre- — Wyden and Murphy also out — is there any concern about ability to get confirmations through this week with her absence?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say there are also some Democrats who have announced that they have also tested positive for COVID. You may be referring to the Federal Reserve nominees or others. That is something that members and leaders will work through in Congress. We are confident we have the votes to get them confirmed. We’re eager to have them in place. But, of course, we need all of people — all members there to do that.
Q And then I had one follow-up on Dr. Jha — something that he said earlier.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q We’ve talked about the administration surging resources to the border —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — including resources to vaccinate migrants. And the last time I asked about this, I believe your answer was something along the lines of, “We have enough funding and supply to take care of the 23 sites that DHS is going to be running to get migrants vaccinated and also take care of uninsured Americans.” But it sounded, in his answer, like that might not be the case anymore. So are we in a place now where there might be a choice where people would have to choose or the administration would have to choose between supplying resources to migrants coming across the border versus taking care of uninsured Americans?
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to check on those resources, Jacqui. I would say that our broad concern about COVID funding is based on a couple of issues that he talked about. One of them is making sure that we are ahead of the world on being able to order ahead, primarily, a lot of different treatments that will help ensure that we have the best vaccines, the best boosters, enough supply once individuals under 50 are eligible.
And certainly, we want to keep all of our programs running across the country. But —
Q And I just have one more on the Hunter Biden reporting that we’ve seen come out. Does the President still maintain that he never spoke with his son about his business dealings? And given this reporting on Eric Schwerin, does he also say that he has never spoken to his son’s business partners about his son’s business dealings?
MS. PSAKI: He maintains his same statements that he’s made in the past. I would say — I know you’re referring to WAVES records that were released more than 10 years ago. I really don’t have more detail or information on them. I’d note that there was a gap when WAVES records were not released, but I don’t have more information about visits from more than 10 years ago.
Go ahead. Oh, well, let me go around to people who haven’t gotten — go ahead.
Q Oh, thanks. Two questions on the war on Ukraine.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q First of all, on food aid —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — does the administration have any idea of how much
money you’ll need yet for global food aid, given the shortfalls into the war on Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. So — well, let me first say that we are not expecting a food shortage here at home, but we are acting to bolster food security around the globe, both unilaterally and in conjunction with allies and partners.
One of the steps we’re taking is we’re really conducting extensive diplomacy to encourage all countries to refrain from export restrictions and excessive stockpiling — obviously, buying up or not exporting goods or products they would normally do — because it can exacerbate supply chall- — chain challenges and price inflation. And we want to consider how to expand production of key areas where we could see that happening: oil seeds and associated commodities.
We’re also working through multilateral channels, including the G7, to provide a range of funding to the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program. A $1.7 billion multilateral financing mechanism is part of what we’ve done there that has helped the world’s poorest countries increase investments in agriculture and food security as we’re anticipating global — shortages in some regions of the world.
And through Feed the Future, our new nutrition commitments, we’re also committing over $11 billion over the next five years to address food security threats and nutrition across the globe in addition to the over $4 billion in humanitarian assistance funding.
So we’ve taken a number of steps — funding mechanisms — you know, multilateral financing mechanisms; also contributing and trying to use through diplomatic channels, you know, efforts to prevent stockpiling and decreasing of exports, because we anticipate it could be an issue, and we’re already seeing that in some parts of the world.
Q Okay. So no idea what the global overall total would be for how much food —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we have a prediction of that at this point. So what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to get ahead of what we anticipate being a shortage or an impact in some parts of the world and working through multilateral mechanisms to help address that, even as we don’t foresee it being a food shortage issue here.
Q And then on natural gas, Russia says it’s going to cut off Poland starting tomorrow, which is a pretty big escalation by Russia. Is the administration concerned that Gazprom might cut off other European nations from — to get natural gas supplies? And is the U.S. going to do anything to help Poland make up for —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — shortages there?
MS. PSAKI: Let me check and see if there’s anything specific to Poland. What I can tell you — and we’ve talked about the little bit in — a little bit in here before — is that for the last several months, and even prior to the invasion, we have been working to increase natural gas supply and options to European countries that have been reliant on Russia for natural gas supply in anticipation of the possibility of this happening or a decrease in what they’re providing.
So, some of that has been asking some countries in Asia who have excess supply to provide that to Europe. We’ve done that in some cases. And it’s been an ongoing effort, but I can see if there’s anything specific for Poland, given this recent announcement.
Go ahead, Matt.
Q Thank you. Two questions on the pardons. There were — pardons and commutations. There were three pardons; two of them were for nonviolent drug offenses. Can you talk at all about, sort of, what it was about those two cases that stuck out to the President, given that there are a lot of people who applied for pardons that have similar circumstances and didn’t receive a pardon today? Is there anything about those two that are emblematic of anything that is on his —
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, I think many of you reported on these cases and the compelling nature of their personal stories. But I would note that his focus at this point in time was on individuals who had less than four years to serve. A number of them — a good percentage of them, and I can find the exact number in here — are also already under home confinement currently.
And this is, again, just the first step. And he will continue to review clemency requests and petitions over the course of his presidency and, certainly, in the coming months.
Q And then, in addition, there is a large backlog of people who have applied for pardons and commutations. And given that, was there any denials in this first wave? Is he denying anybody a pardon or a commutation this —
MS. PSAKI: It’s a good question. I’m happy to check with our counsel’s office and see or if it was just — this was the first round that was granted through the process.
Go ahead, Sheryl.
Q Two questions, Jen. First, following up on Dr. Jha, he said that — he talked about global funding —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — for the coronavirus pandemic.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Republicans have said that they want that money offset. So, has the administration — does the administration intend to propose ways to offset that $5 billion? Or do you think that’s a lost cause?
And, second, the President has a number of crowded events coming up on his calendar — a couple of funerals, the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. And in light of the Vice President’s diagnosis, can you talk about the calculations that the President is making and thinking about whether to attend these kinds of events, and also whether he has any special obligation as President to keep himself safe?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, on the first question, Sheryl, we’re not quite there yet. I mean, we have requested 22.5 in the past, and obviously, that is where our emergency requests will be moving forward for the short-term needs that we have.
This has been passed — past COVID funding, as you well know, has been passed through emergency authorities where it hasn’t been offset. And we certainly think that’s reasonable. But we’re at such the early stage of this process, having not even sent it up to the Hill yet, we’re going to have to have all of those conversations about how to move it forward.
On the second piece, what I will tell you is that we make risk assessments here, just like every American does, and as it relates to, of course, keeping the President safe and all of us safe.
Now, naturally, he has access to the best healthcare in the world. He consults closely with his doctor. We take a range of steps — I noted in response to MJ’s question earlier — that go beyond even most workplaces in the country in terms of required testing for those who — who will be around him, social distancing. Obviously, he has his own regular testing cadence.
But we do make assessments and he makes assessments about when he feels it’s important for him to attend or participate in an event. And you’ve mentioned two of them — obviously, this weekend, he’ll be attending the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. It’s an opportunity to honor the work of all of you and many of your colleagues and to — and to talk about the importance of journalism in the world.
That’s an event he’s attended many times in the past, and he made a decision, through consultations, that it was an event he could attend and wanted to attend again.
And obviously, former Vice President Mondale is someone he had an important personal relationship with. He wanted to attend his memorial service.
Obviously, these discussions are always done through our scheduling team, the COVID team to make sure we’re taking every step possible. But just like many Americans, he makes risk assessments.
And I would say, the last piece — what you didn’t ask about, but, you know, people ask about in here as well — is he has been traveling the country more, recently. You know, he was traveling three days last week. And we — in, of course, coordination with the President — made a decision that was vitally important to him, to his presidency, to the American people.
And certainly, that’s one of the reasons we want to be very clear that it is possible he could test positive for COVID. That, just like any American, even though he’s double boosted, that is possible. And, you know, we will, of course, be very transparent about that if that were to take place.
Q Jen, do you have time for a few more questions? We’re told you have a hard out soon —
MS. PSAKI: Yes. I do. Go ahead.
Q — but didn’t know if you wanted to —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, yeah. And then I’ll try to go the back.
Q Thanks, Jen. Multiple outlets — CBS and Washington Post — have reported today that in yesterday’s meetings with — meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, that President Biden signaled that he was prepared to use executive authority to cancel student debt in the coming months. Can you confirm that this was something relayed to them by the President? And why? What exactly has the President considered doing when it comes to — to student aid debt?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, let me use this opportunity to reiterate that nobody has paid a sing- — a penny in student loan — federal student loans since the President took office. And what we’ve said from here is that — and what he reiterated — is that he will make a decision before there’s an end to that pause.
Right now, it’s been extended through August. And we have talked about how we are looking at and he is looking at other executive authority options he has to bring relief to people who have student loans. So that’s what he conveyed during the meeting yesterday.
Q Well, regarding using executive action, though, I mean, is that something — a step now that the President is seriously looking at?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve talked about that in the past, so he’s continuing to look at it.
Q And then lastly, going back to Vice President Harris’s positive test for COVID, is the White House trying to determine exactly where and when she would have been exposed to COVID? Is it the assumption that it was during a trip to California last week? And is the White House and the Vice President’s Office doing any effort to contract [sic] trace in order to maybe notify people —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — during that lengthy trip who she might have ran into?
MS. PSAKI: Just like for anyone who tests positive around here, we do contact tracing so that people are aware if they should take additional measures or precautions, whether it’s masking or getting additional PCR tests. And we’re certainly doing that in light of the Vice President’s positive test as well.
Q Thanks, Jen. I wanted to ask if the White House had any reaction to that court case that put the temporary block on Title 42 being repealed.
And then I have a follow-up question about Vice President Harris.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, things sometimes happen when I’m out here. But when I — before I came out here, they had only done kind of the verbal briefing, as of last night. So I’m not sure if there’s — has there been a new development? Or that —
Q (Shakes head “no”.)
MS. PSAKI: Okay. So what I will tell you is the Department of Justice will need to review, kind of, any — any rulings before commenting. And that was verbal; there’ll be something more formal, is our expectation. And they would discuss any next legal steps or interpretation of the ruling. So we’ll leave that to them. And we’ll see if more comes out today.
Q And then, on Vice President Harris, do you know the last time she was tested prior to this morning? And is there any therapeutics that she’s taking? A doctor’s (inaudible) —
MS. PSAKI: So she’s on a regular testing protocol, just like the President. I can certainly check and see that information.
And then, as Dr. Jha referenced, she would consult with her doctor on any treatments.
Go ahead, Nadia.
Q Thank you. On foreign policy, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan is supposed to meet with his Israeli counterpart tomorrow. The Israelis have made it perfectly known that there is disagreement with the White House vis-à-vis Iran and going back to the negotiation. Can you update us? First of all, why he’s coming here? What’s on the agenda? And I have another question.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, they consult regularly. I would say, as you know, the President had a fruitful conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Bennett just a couple of days ago. And so, this is a follow-up to that conversation, and they’ll discuss a range of regional and global security issues.
And part of that — you know, the President, when he spoke with Prime Minister Bennett, they also talked about a range of global and regional issues, and Prime Minister Bennett extended an invitation for him to visit Israel, which he accepted and will do. We don’t have a date yet to announce.
They also talked about the Iran nuclear deal negotiations, which we — we keep the Israelis briefed regularly on. So, certainly that could be a part of this conversation as well.
Q Also, Secretary Blinken this morning testified at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He said the breakout time for Iran is weeks away. He blamed the previous administration from withdrawing from the deal. Does this worry the White House that we’re talking about two weeks that Iran could actually develop a nuclear weapon?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, it definitely worries us. I would say that if we go back, you know, under the — under the Iran nuclear deal, Iran’s nuclear program was tightly constrained and monitored by international inspectors. And since the Trump administration ceased U.S. participation in the deal, Iran has rapidly accelerated its nuclear program and reduced cooperation with international inspectors in non-performance of Iran nuclear deal commitments.
So, as you noted, what Secretary Blinken said during his testimony this morning was that their breakout period is down from about a year — which is what we knew it was during the deal — to just a few weeks or less. And certainly, that is a direct impact of pulling out of the nuclear deal, making us less safe, giving us less visibility. And it’s one of the reasons we pursued a diplomatic path, again, when the President took office.
Q Follow on that one?
MS. PSAKI: Okay, April, last one.
Q Thank you.
Q And then mine?
MS. PSAKI: Okay, April last one. Go ahead.
Q Hi, Jen. Two questions —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — really fast. When it —
Q I thought you were going to the back.
Q When it comes —
MS. PSAKI: Tomorrow is a new day.
Q Come on.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, April.
Q The back has never been called on.
Q Hello, this is April. I’m sorry.
Q (Inaudible) in the back.
Q Jen, the two questions: On Haiti, what are the conversations? Can you shed light on the conversations about the Haitian immigration issue as Title 42 is set to end next month?
And also, as the Vice President has tested positive for COVID, and it is in the realm of possibility as the President is traveling — if he gets COVID, in this moment, what is the line of succession if both of them are very ill with COVID at this point?
MS. PSAKI: Well, technically, the Speaker of the House is the third in line. So, there you go.
Q I know, but I just want to make sure.
MS. PSAKI: No, I’m just confirming that for you. It is true, as we’ve noted many times, it is possible the President could test positive. We will be very transparent with you if that were to happen. He has access to the best healthcare in the — in the world.
And we believe, because of all of the precautions and steps we have taken, that he would be able to continue his duties, as the Vice President is, as well, as Vice President. So I don’t have any prediction of that at this point in time.
In terms of your first question on Haiti, tell me a little bit more about what you mean.
Q The way I understand: that there has been conversation or various conversations — to include at the U.N., here — about how do you handle the Haitian migrant issue when Haitian are being sent back, and then you’re bringing other refugees in. And I’m hearing that there are conversations around the administration about how to handle once Title 42 ends.
MS. PSAKI: I would have to dig into this a little bit deeper. And as you know, there’s TPS — right? — that has been granted for a period of time. So that is something that Haitians who have been here at a certain — from a certain point in time have access to. Beyond that —
Q (Inaudible) Title 42.
MS. PSAKI: — our focus, though, is, of course, on continuing to be the largest provider of aid and assistance to Haiti, ensuring we can take steps there to lead in the world, encouraging other countries in the world to take steps as well.
Beyond that, maybe we can talk after the briefing and I can find out a little bit more about what you mean. I will go to the back tomorrow first thing. Thank you so much, everyone.
3:57 P.M. EDT