James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

3:16 P.M. EDT       

MS. PSAKI:  Hi, everyone.  Good afternoon. 

Okay, two items for all of you at the top.  Today, we released a report highlighting the historic small-business boom under the Biden-Harris administration.  Last year, Americans applied to start 5.4 million new businesses — 20 percent more than any year on record.  And small businesses are creating more jobs than ever before.

And it’s been particularly strong for entrepreneurs of color.  For example, Hispanic entrepreneurs started new businesses in 2021 at the fastest rate in more than a decade — 23 percent faster than pre-pandemic levels.

You heard the President say this today, but this approach is in stark contrast to congressional Republicans’ tax plan, which would raise taxes by an average of almost $1,200 on nearly half of small-business owners.

Not only does President Biden reject congressional Republicans’ plans to increase taxes on half of small-business owners, he also has an economic strategy to keep the small-business boom going, including expanding access to capital, making historic investments in technical assistance programs to help entrepreneurs identify resources, leveraging federal procurement to direct hundreds of billions in government contracts to small businesses, and leveling the playing field for small-business owners to reforming the tax code.

I also wanted to note that today the Food and Drug Administration announced two proposed rules: one to prohibit menthol cigarettes and one to prohibit flavor- — flavored cigars. 

The rules announced today would enforce regulations related to what stores sell and what companies manufacture and distribute, which is a critical — critical action to prevent children from becoming the next generation of smokers, help adult smokers quit, and significantly reduce tobacco-related health disparities.

With that, why don’t you kick us off.

Q    Hello, I have two questions about student loan forgiveness.  First off, has the President concluded that he has the power to do this unilaterally?

And secondly, does he believe that means testing is the correct approach to student loan forgiveness?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, there’s been no conclusion of any process internally yet.  But you heard the President talk this morning about his ongoing consideration of how to provide additional relief to many Americans who are still — still have student loans, even though they have not paid a penny on federal student loans since he took office. 

And what was the second part of your question?

Q    Has he decided if he wants to do means testing?

MS. PSAKI:  So, he has talked in the past about how, you know, he doesn’t believe that — that millionaires and billionaires, obviously, should benefit or even people from the highest income.  So that’s certainly something he would be looking at. 

Q    So, I just want to be very clear about the power to do this.  He’s looking at doing this issue. 

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    But you’re not saying if he’s going to send a bill to Congress or he’s actually going to do it himself.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we definitely know he has the ability and the — the legal ability to sign a bill Congress passes. 

Q    Sure.

MS. PSAKI:  So what we’re really talking about is authorities through executive action, which we’re continuing to look at and he’s continuing to consider. 

Q    And lastly, what concerns does he have about the growing cost of college?  You know, obviously, the cost of college has been rising very quickly.  This would reduce borrowers’ out-of-pocket costs so they don’t have to pay down some of their debt.  But what about that cost of the education up front?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, it — from the beginning of his administration — and, I would say, through the course of his career — he has expressed an interest on the increasing cost of college and the barriers that that poses to people getting a two-year or four-year education. 

He has taken a number of steps already since he took office to bring down costs for Americans, including bringing down the cost of college.

The American Rescue Plan provided nearly $40 billion in higher-education relief for colleges and universities, much of which was earmarked for emergency financial aid to help students to make college more affordable for college and — for current and future students. 

He also called for and Congress passed a $400 increase in the maximum Pell Grant — the largest increase in over a decade. 

And additionally, we have now approved the cancellation of more than $18.5 billion in student loan debt for more than 750,000 borrowers. 

So while he’s continuing to consider what executive actions he could take using his own authority — even though if Congress sent him a bill tomorrow, he could sign it and he would sign it to give $10,000 of student debt relief — we’ve also — he has not hesitated and has also taken additional steps.

Q    And the final question: a response to Republicans like Senator Romney who say this is a political giveaway to consider canceling student — student loan debt.

MS. PSAKI:  I would say, you know, the President’s view is that, as the leader of the country, what he needs to do is continue to provide relief to people who need it most to help people get some extra breathing room.  And that includes getting people con- — this consideration of getting people relief who have taken steps to further their education and maybe take steps to advance their — their family circumstances. 

Go ahead. 

Q    Thanks.  Switching gears to Title 42: The President said today that the administration would comply with whatever the courts decide.  So, just to be clear, there’s not a plan to fight this decision?

MS. PSAKI:  That would be a decision made by the Department of Justice, but they haven’t even done a formal ruling that they’re considering at this point in time. 

Q    But there’s the temporary restri- — the TRO.  So, at this point, the administration is — doesn’t have anything to announce, in terms of fighting this?

MS. PSAKI:  They verbally did the TRO.  They have not done, I don’t believe, a more formal, written one that has been looked at or considered by the Department of Justice at this point in time.

Q    Does the President disagree with this ruling?

MS. PSAKI:  Again, it’s the Department of Justice to look at this.  The President has talked about how he would — the authority is given to the CDC to make a decision about when the conditions exist to lift Title 42.  They made that decision, and he certainly supports that.  And that’s why we’re preparing to lift it, through the Department of Homeland Security and an interagency process.

Q    But if the CDC determined, like you just said, the order was no longer necessary, then it wouldn’t make sense to fight — to not fight this, to let that just stand. 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the Department of Justice would make that decision.  There hasn’t even been a formal issuing by the court.  It’s been a verbal report.  They said they would need to look at that.  They would make any announcement about any legal action. 

Q    And I just want to ask you: We just continue to hear these Democratic senators that were briefed this week.  Cortez Masto was the latest.  She was briefed by the administration and said that even though you’ve been saying there’s this comprehensive plan to deal with the border after Title 42 is lifted, she has not seen a comprehensive plan.  She said she did not hear a comprehensive plan on how they are going to address the surge or the resources needed to make sure we are addressing the drug trafficking across the border.

So your response to her and just, big picture, why Democrats aren’t united on this? 

MS. PSAKI:  I can’t speak for all Democrats.  I can tell you that we share the frustration about how broken our immigration system is and how there need to be fixes at the border, whether that is smarter security funding or fixing the asylum processing system that’s long been broken. 

And we would welcome the interest of any Democrat or Republican to work with us on that effort and talk about and work for it — work on moving forward the bill the President proposed on his first day in office.

Secretary Mayorkas — who oversees this, of course — has been testifying.  I think he has four — he’s testifying to four committees, including the House Judiciary Committee today.  And he laid out six pillars of our plan, including components that address exactly those specific pieces: how we would surge resources, personnel, transportation, medical support; how we’re enhancing CBP processing; how we’re administrating — administering consequences for unlawful entry; how we’re bolstering the capacity of nongovernmental organizations; what we’re doing to target and disrupt the transnational criminal organizations; and how we’re going to deter irregular migration. 

But this is not an immigration policy.  This is how we’re implementing the lifting of Title 42.  So we need a longer-term, more comprehensive immigration reform policy.  And we’d welcome any efforts to work with that with members of Congress. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  The request for $33 billion — how quickly do you expect it will move through Congress?  And when is the deadline for when you absolutely need it?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not here to set new deadlines.  But I can tell you that both needs are urgent.  Well, the — I would say that need is urgent, as is the need for COVID funding is urgent.
In terms of where we are with — with spending, just to give you a sense of — of the money that we’ve already — we’ve already allocated or already been giving — putting on the ground to the Ukrainians in the form of military assistance — I stumbled through that a little bit — as you know, we had $3.5 billion in military security assistance.  We have about $250 million of that left in drawdown.  So, obviously, we will work to expedite that and provide that to the Ukrainians. 

But in order to continue to help assist them, help make sure they have the — the weapons they need, the artillery they need, the equipment they need, it is certainly urgent to move forward on this funding.

Q    And what is your view on why the economy shrunk 1.4 percent during the first quarter?

MS. PSAKI:  So, GDP, which is what that’s a measure of, measures a couple of different components of economic data: consumption, investment, inventory, and exports.

On a number of these — these data components — we had very positive signs in this same set of data, including consumption; consumer spending was up by about 2.5 percent.  On investment, business investment, residential investment — both up as well. 

And on exports, the number was down, but that is largely because our economy is doing better than many economies around the world.  So, while we were purchasing a lot of goods from other countries, there wasn’t the same capacity to purchase our goods.  That is — that is why that number was — was lower.

And then on inventory, which is another piece of data that is measured, quarter four of last year had the largest inventory number of any quarter in history, in large part because, as the supply chain problems were being fixed — thanks in large part to the President’s efforts — businesses were able to get goods, and they made enormous purchases — largest numbers to stock their inventory of any quarter in history.  And this — what this data is measuring is changes in growth from quarter to quarter. 

So, because of that, even though this was the fifth-largest inventory quarter in history, in comparison with the fourth quarter of last year, it showed a decrease, which led to the — to the number.

But what — what economists — many economists — Jason Furman has spoken to this, and others — what they look at as measures of the strength of the economy and what they’re monitoring closely from quarter to quarter as important indicators are consumer spending, business investment, residential investment.  All of these increased at strong rates in the first quarter and as did the overall demand, and are good signs for the strength of the economy. 

Q    And lastly, to what extent are you looking at cutting tariffs on Chinese goods as a way to ease inflation?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, there’s an ongoing review of that led by Ambassador Tai at USTR.  And we are certainly continuing to look at where these tariffs — put in place by the prior administration — don’t make sense.  And one of the factors that we’re looking at as a part of this review is certainly the impact on jobs and wages and, of course, on inflation.  But we’re also looking at — and costs, of course, of goods. 

But we’re also looking at where we have concerns about the economic policies and approaches of China.  But I don’t have anything to preview at this point in terms of how that review is going. 

Go ahead.

Q    Just one point of clarification: Does the President want this funding for Ukraine tied to the COVID-19 funding?

MS. PSAKI:  We’re not making a predetermination of that from here.  We put forward both of these funding requests today because they’re both vital, they’re both important.  We need them both to help the Ukrainians and to help ensure we’re continuing our COVID programs here in this country and around the world.  But we’re not going to predetermine for Congress how they move forward.  There is just an urgency in moving them forward.

Q    Okay.  It was just confusing, because in his letter to Congress, he seemed to say he did want it tied to the COVID-19 funding, but he told reporters he didn’t care if it was tied to the COVID-19 funding.

MS. PSAKI:  That was not the intention of how it was written.  It was intended just to convey we’re moving — we’re putting these both forward today.

Q    Okay.  So you’re not — so the White House is not saying that it should be tied to the COVID-19 funding?

MS. PSAKI:  No.  We’re saying: These are both urgent.  We would like to move these forward.  We’ll work with you to determine how to get that done.

Q    Okay.  And you said you don’t want to put a deadline on when Congress needs to pass and authorize this $33 billion request that the President has made.  But how many more weeks can Ukraine go, based on what they have so far and based on the drawdown authority that the President still has, before you do start to see interruptions in military aid and economic assistance and humanitarian aid?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say, because we have $250 million left —

Q    That’s not very much, though, compared to what you’re asking for.

MS. PSAKI:  I know, I’m — I’m getting — I’m getting to your point.  I’m getting to the point here.

You know, there’s obviously more that’s needed.  And we want to be able to continue to provide a range of security and military assistance to the Ukrainians.

Now, we strategically frontloaded the military and security assistance we were providing a couple of weeks ago, expedited the delivery of it, because we knew that as Russia was repositioning in the east, and really re- — re- — changing their strategic approach to focus on the Donbas, they would need that on the front end. 

So, it doesn’t mean that it will be exactly the same pace and every week, but certainly there is an urgency to getting this funding done.  There has been bipartisan — through.

There has been bipartisan support in the past, and we’re certainly looking forward to working with them to get this done as quickly as possible.

Q    And it would seem to suggest that there is a timeline, since officials told reporters today, briefing it, that they believe this is enough for Ukraine for the next five months to last through the end of the fiscal year — which, of course, that would start in a few days if you’re judging on a five-months timeline.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, that’s a different — that’s a different question than a timeline for getting the package done.  I mean, we did this on a fiscal year basis because that seemed to make sense, of course, and also because we wanted to do it over the long term for planning purposes.  But it doesn’t mean that the funding would be delivered tomorrow, obviously.  We have to get it through and move it through Congress.  And we want to do that as quickly as possible. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  A quick follow on student loans.  Today, the President said that he is not considering the $50,000 figure that some Democrats have pushed for.  Is there a range you can provide for what he is considering?  Is it more than the $10,000 both of you have mentioned before?

MS. PSAKI:  He has said that before.  So, today was not the first time he has said that about $50,000 in the past.  I guess it’s been a few months.  I don’t have a top range for you.  I think he was just reacting to that size of the number. 

He said in the past, and I’ve reiterated, that he would be happy to sign a piece of legislation or a bill that came to his desk that canceled $10,000 in student loans.  Could be more than that.  We’re looking at that.  But I think $50,000 was just his indication of that size and his opposition to that.

Q    Got it.  And then today, when he was talking about the supplemental budget, he said that NATO Allies and EU partners are going to pay their “fair share of the cost as well.”  How does he define “fair share”?

MS. PSAKI:  I think he was trying to send the message, which has already been underway, that we are going to continue to give a range of — and a significant range — amount of military and security assistance.  But other countries — we expect them to continue to step up as well, as this is going to be a sustained effort, a longer war, as we’ve talked about before.  We’re going to need other countries to continue to provide a range of assistance as well. 
And we are far and away — the United States is — the largest provider of military, humanitarian, and economic assistance.  And other countries have taken steps.  I mean, Germany just announced this week — right? — their — their plan or their intention, and they may have been delivered, to provide tanks — something they have never done before. 

A number of other countries have announced steps to provide a range of military assistance and weapons that they have never provided before. 

But it was more the President sending a message about the need for every country to remain committed to this sustained and long-term effort to support the Ukrainians.

Q    But — but he’s not saying that they should be paying as much as the U.S. in terms of a monetary figure?

MS. PSAKI:  Every country is going to be able to provide different amounts and different types of assistance.  So it’s not prejudging that.  It’s just an ask and a reminder and a call to the world that we need to be in this for the long term, and we all need to continue to provide a range of assistance.

Q    And then one more on Paul Whelan.  Yesterday, I asked you about what his brother said.  Today, he himself issued a statement, and he is asking, “Why was I left behind?”  He mentioned he’s pleased Trevor is home with his family, but he is asking, “Why hasn’t more been done to secure my release?”  What is the administration’s response to Paul Whelan?

MS. PSAKI:  I would say that we will continue to do everything possible to bring Paul Whelan home.  We are in regular touch with his family and his family members.  And we don’t outline in detail everything we are doing publicly because our objective is to return him home with his family. 

The President is focused on that.  And we would say to him, we — “We are going to continue to do everything possible to bring you home.”

Q    Can you say whether there has been any progress made in the past two, three months on their cases — on Whelan and Brittney Griner?

MS. PSAKI:  It wouldn’t be constructive to outline or detail any specifics from here because our objective is to be successful, and talking about these cases publicly and getting into specifics often isn’t constructive toward that goal.

Go ahead.

Q    Jen, thank you.  I wanted to start by asking you a few questions about Ukraine.  The U.N. Secretary-General met with President Putin.  He’s meeting with President Zelenskyy.  He’s trying to strike a deal to get those who are in the steel plant out.  Ukrainian officials were very skeptical of these talks heading into this week.  Does the administration feel as though there’s been any progress that has come out of his talks with Putin and Zelenskyy?

MS. PSAKI:  Look, I would say that it’s not for us to make a judgment from here.  We are here to support the efforts of the Ukrainians and the Ukrainian leaders to pursue diplomatic talks and diplomatic engagements should they see that as constructive. 

We have not seen evidence that President Putin or the Russians have taken steps — whether it is allowing for humanitarian convoys to move forward, humanitarian assistance, creating corridors — that would give an indication of that. 

But our objective is: continue to implement the strategy that we laid out from early in this conflict, which is to provide the type of security and military assistance to help the Ukrainians fight and win on the battlefield — they obviously did that in Kyiv in pushing back the Russians — to give them economic and humanitarian assistance to strengthen their hand in diplomatic talks.

Q    Against the backdrop of the President’s announcement today and request for this $33 billion aid package, can you say: Is it the policy goal of the United States for Ukraine to defeat Russia? 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, look, it depends on how you — we’re not going to define that from here.  That’s for the Ukra- —

Q    How would you define it?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, that’s for the Ukrainians to define. 

What we are going to do from here is to continue to provide them with a range of security and military assistance, as is evidenced by the package that the President proposed and put forward to Capitol Hill today; to strengthen their ne- — their hand at the negotiating table; and ensure that they have the support and backing of the United States and the world.

Q    Just to be clear — and I understand what you’re saying: It’s for the Ukrainians to define.  But does the United States think that success has to include Russians leaving all of the new portions of Ukraine that they currently invaded? 

MS. PSAKI:  Again, we’re not going to define that from here, Kristen.  There are a range of negotiations that may happen and may take place, and we’re just not going to get ahead of that.

Q    Let me ask you about Build Back Better, if I might, or the remains of Build Back Better.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    Given that you are pushing for this new aid, given that you are pushing for pandemic aid as well, where does that fall right now on the agenda?  Is there urgency to get those priorities passed as well? 

MS. PSAKI:  Absolutely.  I mean, here’s the thing about Congress and governing: You — you can and you are able to do more than one thing at one time.  Right?  Just even look at the committees of jurisdiction in Congress.  The committees that are considering and looking at, you know, some of the military assistance and security packages may not be the same that are considering and writing pieces of legislation on a reconciliation package.

There is a great deal of interest and passion on Capitol Hill among Democrats in moving forward on the President’s agenda and the President’s proposal to lower the cost of prescription drugs; to lower the cost of childcare, of healthcare, of eldercare.  And we’re going to continue advocating and fighting for that.

Q    In order for it to get done against the backdrop of this election year, do you need to have a deal in place by Memorial Day — that has obviously been floated as the deadline?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not here to set new deadlines, Kristen.  We know there is interest, there’s passion, there’s advocacy.  We’re continuing to do a lot of work behind the scenes, and we’re going to continue to fight to get it done. 

Q    I know you don’t want to talk about deadlines, but if you could give us a reality check.  The President said today he’s going to announce something on student loans in just a few weeks.  You had said that there could potentially be an announcement by August — the end of the summer.  Realistically, can we expect to hear something from the President in the next few weeks on this? 

MS. PSAKI:  Stay tuned and we’ll see.  Obviously, we have to continue a policy process.  The President will make a decision.  And once we have a decision to make, we’ll — we’ll, of course, announce that.

What I was getting at, really, is: The end of August is also the time that the student loan payment deferral — that’s the kind of period that it was extended through.  So, it was more about making a decision before then.

Q    Okay.  Thanks, Jen.

MS. PSAKI:  We always like to beat timelines here.  You know. 

So, go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  On student loan debt —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    — the Committee for a Responsible Budget has spoken out against this, saying they’ve done a calculation that canceling $10,000 per borrower would cost $250 billion, $50,000 per borrower would cost $950 billion.  What do you say to people, sort of, in their camp who are concerned that canceling student debt can have inflationary impact? 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I haven’t looked at all those numbers and what incomes they would apply to, nor has there been a proposal that the President has put out on this front or anything that’s passed through Congress. 

But what I would say, broadly speaking, is that when you look at the choices that need to be made, the President is looking at the impact of student loans — something that many people in this country, millions of Americans undertook to get a better education, to make sure they were advancing their own knowledge, to maybe help their family have a better life — that finding ways to provide relief to students, to make sure that these working-cla- — working families are getting relief is more important than tax cuts to millionaires, billionaires, and corporations. 

And we can make choices about where we invest and where we think we can make the tax system more fair.  But there isn’t even a bill that’s moved through Congress, nor have we put a proposal together.  So I don’t — those numbers aren’t based on any reality at this moment.

Q    But broadly speaking, is there any concern that, you know, given this narrative that it could have an inflationary impact that’s coming from critics of this administration who are looking at the economy, looking at inflation, and having problems with where it stands, is there a concern that, you know, canceling student debt could make it hard for the Joe Manchins of Congress to sign on to bills that would, you know, pass elements of Build Back Better that you guys are still trying to get through, which he said he won’t do because of inflation?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I’m not going to speak, obviously, for Senator Manchin.  I haven’t heard him make that point in the past either. 

What I would say is that the way that inflation impacts people across the country is costs — right? — costs to their bank accounts, costs to their budgets.  And what we’re talking about here is how to provide people with relief, how they can — how we can provide them with relief or consider providing them with relief so that they have more money to spend on things in their lives.  And providing student loan relief is exactly that.

And the President has taken a range of steps to address and lower costs for people.  Considering this is one of them.  Extending the pause on student loan payments is one of them.  But also, fixing the glitch — the “family glitch” in the Affordable Care Act is another one of them.

So, when we talk about inflation, sometimes we talk about it like, you know, a 50,000-foot ivory tower economist might.  And really, what in- — how inflation impacts people is costs and what they’re paying out of their pocket. 

So, actually, considering this would be helping Americans address exactly that issue.

Q    And then on this new report that the Department of Homeland Security is setting up a Disinformation Governance Board to tackle misinformation ahead of the midterms: Secretary Mayorkas said that part of its intention was to tackle misinformation in Hispanic communities especially.  Can you give us an idea of what this board is going to be doing, what their authority would look like? 

MS. PSAKI:  Sure, Jacqui.  I really haven’t dug into this exactly.  I mean, we, of course, support this effort, but let me see if I can get more specifics.  We know that there has been a range of disinfo out there about a range of topics — I mean, including COVID, for example, and also elections and eligibility.  But I will — I will check and see if there’s more specifics.

Q    There’s been some criticism of the person who’s been chosen to oversee this board.  She had previously called the Hunter Biden laptop a “Trump campaign product,” seeming to discredit its validity — or validity of reporting surrounding that. 

How can you assuage concerns of people who are looking at this person who’s been appointed to this position and wondering if she’s going to be able to accurately judge misinformation now that a lot of that reporting has been proven to be factual in some ways? 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I don’t have any comments on the laptop.

But what I can tell you is that it sounds like the objective of the board is to prevent disinformation and misinformation from traveling around the country in a range of communities.  I’m not sure who opposes that effort, and I don’t know who this individual is, so I have no comments on it specifically.

Q    Her name is Nina Jankowicz.  She also just recently made some polarizing comments about the Twitter — Elon Musk’s Twitter purchase.  It’s just getting some pushback from critics who are saying this person may not be the right choice for a board that is run by the Department of Homeland Security.  Can you speak to that at all?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any information about this individual.  I can check on more information about the board.

Go ahead.

Q    How much of the original $13.6 billion for Ukraine has actually been spent at this point?  Reporters are still trying to understand the answer to that.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I noted a little bit earlier, I think, in response — in proactive, preemptive response to this question, that, of the $3.5 billion on security, we’ve spent $3.25 billion of that already, which we have transparently provided regular info to all of you on.

In terms of the humanitarian and economic assistance, a lot of it has been allocated to how it would be spent.  I can see if we have an update on what has actually gone to ground.

Q    Okay.  And secondly, on the — on the menthol ban, some Black community activists, the ACLU, members of the CDC have voiced concerns that it could push more of the illicit market, which would lead to racially profiling Black smokers.  Can this administration ensure that won’t happen?

MS. PSAKI:  Absolutely.  Because this rule would go after manufacturers and people who sell, not individuals who smoke menthol cigarettes.  And it would save lives.

I’d also note that the NAACP put out a statement saying: “For decades, the tobacco industry has been targeting African Americans and have contributed to the skyrocketing rates of heart disease, stroke, and cancer across our community.  The tobacco industry is on a narrow quest for profit, and they have been killing us along the way.  The NAACP has been calling for a ban on menthol cigarettes and flavored e-cigarettes for years now, and we applaud the FDA’s…plan…”

But what we’re talking about here is this — these rules are estimated that — it’s estimated that eliminating menthol and tobacco products could prevent up to 654,000 deaths over the next 40 years and up to 238,000 deaths among African Americans.

But this is not about going after individuals smoking menthol cigarettes; this is about manufacturers and people who are selling them.

Q    Jen, why does President Biden believe pro-life taxpayers, Catholics among them —

Q    On — on inflation. 

Q    — should fund Title 10 clinics —

Q    Excuse me.  On inflation — hey!

Q    — that advise women on how to get an abortion?

MS. PSAKI:  Sir.  We don’t —

Q    You’re going down the row, and you’re giving these people five and six questions.  I get one, don’t I?  And the people back here too —

MS. PSAKI:  I think if you could — if you could sit here and be respectful —

Q    You give them five to six questions.

MS. PSAKI:  — of your colleagues here —

Q    So, again, my question is —

MS. PSAKI:  — that might work better.

Go ahead.

Q    — why does President Biden believe pro-life taxpayers —

MS. PSAKI:  Sir.  Sir.

Q    — Catholics among them —

MS. PSAKI:  I think he’s the next question. 

Go ahead.

Q    Yes.  Okay, so on —

Q    — should have to fund Title 10 clinics that advise women on how to get an abortion?  Simple question.

Q    You’re being very disrespectful.

Q    — on the AMLO meeting, your statement laid out a bunch of domestic issues that would be discussed, and regional issues —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    — like economic cooperation, et cetera.  I was wondering if the President was planning to raise AMLO’s attitude towards Russia and Ukraine.  He’s been really loath to criticize Russia, and he hasn’t really joined this international effort.  So, does the President plan to raise that tomorrow?

MS. PSAKI:  You know, it’s a good question.  The primary focus of the meeting, as you outline, is about, kind of, getting ahead of the Summit of the Americas, talking about the agenda.  Obviously, there’s a lot to be discussed as it relates to migration. 

And this meeting was planned in advance of our long-term planning of the potential lifting of Title 42 as well.  It is often on the President’s mind, as you know — Russia and Ukraine and the conflict.  So, while it may not be on the preemptive agenda, we will have a more comprehensive readout once the meeting is concluded.

Q    And then, on the GDP report, I’m just wondering if the contraction has the White House rethinking its support for the Fed’s plan to raise interest rates?

MS. PSAKI:  We continue to support the intention or stated intention of the independent Federal Reserve to recalibrate, and we support that effort.

I noted a lot of the different data measurements here because I think it’s important to note that the inventory piece was not unexpected.  I mean, we actually spoke to it a couple of days ago as well, given the record inventory numbers from the fourth quarter of last year and the fact that it measures the comparison and the change of growth from quarter to quarter.

Q    And then lastly, this has happened while you came out here so you might not have heard about it, but Senator Manchin said at a hearing that he thinks the electric vehicle tax credit, quote, “makes no sense.”  And I’m wondering what your reaction to that is and whether you think that further complicates a skinny reconciliation bill getting


MS. PSAKI:  I would say that Senator Manchin remains a friend of the President’s and someone we will continue to work with and look forward to continuing engagements with.

Go ahead.

Q    So, again, my question: Why does President Biden believe pro-life taxpayers, Catholics among them —

Q    Okay, so, earlier you were asked about the economic —

Q    — should fund Title 10 clinics that advise women on having an abortion?

Q    — you were asked about economic and humanitarian assistance aid amount. 

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    I’m wondering: The military aid, it seems like the President said has, quote, “basically” run out.  The military — I’m sorry, the humanitarian and economic aid, if it has not yet run out, could those funds be diverted first from the White House to additional security and military assistance?  Is that something that you all can do?  Is it something you are considering?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t believe.  It’s a good question.  I don’t believe that’s under consideration in large part because the humanitarian and economic assistance is vital.  Think about the number of the millions of refugees, the millions of people who have been — become homeless as a result of this — or no longer in their homes as a result of this war.  And there are a range of economic needs that President Zelenskyy has spoken about himself about — that will be needed over the coming months.

So that’s why there are multiple buckets, and that will continue to be the case.  I’m not aware of any consideration of reallocation of funds.

Q    And then, the other question I was going to ask is: In terms of having the 250 military — I’m sorry, $250 million in military assistance that remains, could you all essentially spend money on the front side in the coming weeks if Congress is unable to pass something, recoup it from the supplemental later?  And if you do that, is there a limit how much money you can spend that way upfront?

MS. PSAKI:  Just so I understand — I may have to ask OMB this question — can we kind of get a line of credit of sorts?

Q    Correct.  Exactly.

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.  To — to kind of purchase or things along those lines. 

Let me check and see with our budgetary experts.  No one knows more than how this works than Shalanda Young, so I will check with her and get back to you.

Q    And the last question I was going to ask is: Is it the administration’s policy to continue to provide essentially an unlimited amount of money to Ukraine?  I mean, is there a top-line budget?  And is the thinking that the administration will continue to support Ukraine for as long as it needs, for how much money it needs?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think we did this five-month request because we wanted to be able to do longer-term planning and work with the Ukrainians, our European partners.  This is not all for Ukraine, it’s also for some of our Eastern European partners and others to help support them during this time as well.

But I’m not going to get ahead of where we will be in three months, four months, five months.  Our objective is continue to support the Ukrainians.  But I’m not going to get ahead of where we are at this point in time.

I can note — and I know this goes to Alex’s earlier question — I mean a little bit in terms of the other components, and I can see if there’s more of a specific of what’s been spent down. 

But when it comes to humanitarian, economic, food, and other security assistance, some of that funding is, you know, $1.7 billion to ensure continuity of Ukraine’s democratic operations and provide other macroeconomic assistance; hundreds of millions of dollars in food, shelter, and other humanitarian aid to Ukrainians.  But we can also see if there’s more specifics on where we are with the spend-out of it.

Go ahead.

Q    Yeah, revisiting student loan debt and that issue.  Why isn’t President Biden willing to go as high as $50,000?  That’s the figure that Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has pointed to.  That’s the figure that a lot of progressive Democrats have pointed to.  So what about that number gives the President concern?

MS. PSAKI:  The President himself has spoken to this in the past, so I’d really point you to his own words on this front. 

Q    Remind me what he said then. 

MS. PSAKI:  I’m happy to get them to you after the briefing, but what I can tell you is that the President has said many times that he would be happy to sign a bill that would provide $10,000 in relief to individuals who have student loans, and Congress could send him that.  That hasn’t happened yet.  That could be the first focus of Congress, as an example.  And he’s continuing to consider what he has the executive authority or authority to do with his own power.  So, I’m just not going to get ahead of that consideration process.

Go ahead.

Q    So, again, it’s a simple question: Why does President Biden —

Q    Jen, you mentioned the $33 billion package and how urgent it is.  We don’t yet really have a timeline on how urgent — you know, if it’s weeks or months.  Can you detail at all sort of the White House strategy behind getting that money secured?  The President, obviously, next week is going to Alabama to tour Lockheed Martin and the Javelins.  It may be one opportunity —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah, to see Javelins — Javelins being made.

Q    That may be one opportunity to draw attention to this.  Are there other things that the White House is doing strategically to get that urgency, you know, felt by members of Congress?

MS. PSAKI:  Look, I think you are going to see a full-court press from us on this funding, as well as the COVID funding, which is very — which is vital to the continuation of our fight against the pandemic.

And you will see that in the form of engagement with members on the Hill and committees; you will see that in the form of our Secretary of State, our Secretary of Defense, and other national security officials speaking publicly, testifying, as many of them are, and speaking to it during testimony.

And obviously, you noted, the President’s visit to the factory — the Lockheed Martin factory, I believe, in Alabama next week. 

Even the decision today for the President to make the announcement himself instead of doing just a background briefing and providing all of the details to all of you was an effort to talk through the vital need of this assistance, what it would go to, and elevate it to that level.

Q    And then, is there any effort, I guess — you heard this a little bit from him today talking about how Ukrainians are giving up their lives, so the money — I guess, is there anything that the White House is doing to address the concern from some Americans that this is an awful lot of money going to a foreign country when we have domestic needs at home?

I don’t know if there’s anything proactively that you guys may do to try to make that case for why this amount of money is needed.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say that we’ve also seen an incredibly heart- — heartfelt outpouring of support from the American people for the efforts of the United States to lead in standing up to Russian aggression and to stand up in favor and support of the Ukrainians.

You know, to the President, this is about American leadership in the world.  It’s also about standing up for democracy versus autocracy.  It’s about standing up against one foreign country invading another foreign country.  And, you know, it’s about American leadership in the world.

So, we will continue to articulate that and make that clear.  And that is part of the reason why the President also detailed in specificity today what all of this would go to.  I mean, some of it — a great deal of it is, of course, to military assistance to fight this war, but there is funding in there, as he noted this morning, for food security and ensuring that we are addressing any food shortages around the world.  There is assistance that is going into humanitarian assistance and helping the outflow of refugees.  And so, it was important to him personally to lay out the specifics in his remarks this morning. 

Q    Can I follow up on —

Q    So, again, a really simple question —

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.

Q    Yes, thanks, Jen.  Looking ahead to the President’s —

Q    There’s a simple process, sir. 

Q    (Inaudible) question.  You give these people six questions in the front row.

Q    Looking ahead to the President’s trip to Japan —

Q    It’s disrespectful.

Q    — that was announced last night, I’m wondering if you can talk about — and the Quad summit.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    I’m wondering if you can talk how the President will raise sort of a unified response to Russia — 

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    — with India at the table and then also, sort of, the China-Taiwan issue.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, on the Japan — on the first part, on Russia, I would say, first, we’ve had a number of engagements, as you know, with leaders in India about our approach to supporting the Ukrainians in this — in this war, whether that is sanctions and the enormous sanctions package we’re putting in — we’ve put in place or, of course, the assistance we’ve provided.  We will convey the same sentiments in this meeting. 

Now, this meeting is several weeks away, so a lot can certainly happen.  And as you know, other members of the Quad have also been vital partners and vital, you know, supporters of the Ukrainians’ effort to fight the war, including Japan.  I mean, Japan — just as an example — has not only provided a range of assistance, but they’ve also agreed to divert some of the LNG resources to help Europe.  So there’s a number of steps they have also taken that will be a part of the discussion. 

And certainly, the President will provide an update on what we’re doing and where things stand at that point in time. 

We’re just not quite there on previewing the agenda yet.  Obviously, the President’s position on Taiwan has not changed.  He will certainly restate it during this meeting, but I’m sure we’ll have more to preview as we get closer to the trip. 

Q    And China, Taiwan — how will that be raised as well?

MS. PSAKI:  Again, as we get closer to the trip — there’s not a change in our policy.  Obviously, the President’s policy is based on the Taiwan Relations Act.  That will continue.  And as we get closer to the trip, I’m sure we’ll have more to preview. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  One question on Moldova and one on COVID.  Do you have any update, any insight on the explosions in Transnistria earlier in the week?

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah. 

Q    And if the Russians were to open a new front in Moldavian territory, would that trigger any new consequences for Russia?

MS. PSAKI:  On the first part, I just don’t have new confirmation or new details to read out from here on — we’re still continuing to look at the explosions from earlier this week. 

I’m just not going to get ahead of a hypothetical at this point in time in terms of what consequences there would be.

Q    Yesterday, you were talking about how there’s great access to Paxlovid —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    — in the country.  You’re trying to get the word out on its effectiveness.  One of the main issues with Paxlovid is that an individual who is eligible has to test positive, and then they have to race to get it within three days even though they’re quarantining.  Is there any conversation within the administration to change that for an eligible individual to be able to get it preemptively?

MS. PSAKI:  I think that would be a decision likely made by our health and medical experts, so I just don’t have anything to preview at this point in time. 

It requires a prescription, right?  But there are a range of ways to have those conversations with your doctor.  So I’m not sure it always involves a race to the doctor’s office.  But different doctors can have virtual appointments and other means of getting prescriptions.  It’s about consulting to ensure you’re eligible.

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  So, I have a question on Ukraine, and then a follow-up on my colleague’s questions.  Zelenskyy’s top advisor tweeted today that “Ukraine should decide whether to strike [Russian] military facilities.”  I know you’ve spoken to — on this before, but — you’re trying to avoid a hypothetical situation.  But this seems like it’s getting closer towards a non-hypothetical situation.  Can you — can you at least outline — (laughter) — outline —

MS. PSAKI:  I appreciated that.  Okay.  Go ahead. 

Q    — whether the administration believes that this is escalatory or could be constructive?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, you know, one, I think it’s important to take a step back and remember what we’re talking about here.  I mean, it is Russia that started this war, invaded Ukraine, and violated Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.  It’s Russian forces that have committed war crimes and horrifying atrocities.  And it’s Russia that continues to attack Ukrainian targets in Ukraine every day. 

So even if we are, dare I say, “getting into a hypothetical,” what we’re talking about here is not any intention of Ukraine invading Russia and trying to take Russian territory, going after Russian civilians, going after Russians’ hospitals.  We’re talking about consideration of military targets.  It’s something very different.  So I just think that’s important context for everybody to consider.

Q    Still on Ukraine: There’s no formal announcement as of right now about Jakarta inviting Zelenskyy to the G20.  But our sources suggest that they are indeed inviting both Zelenskyy as well as Putin.  So, under those circumstances, would the President consider attending?  I know it’s still six months away.  But under those circumstances, (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we certainly welcomed reports about Ukraine’s invitation.  Obviously, we can’t confirm that on behalf of Indonesia, who is hosting.  And the President has been clear about his view: This shouldn’t be business as usual, and that Russia should not be a part of this.

But, again, it’s six months away; we don’t even have confirmation of these reports.  So I’m certainly not going to get into a hypothetical in this case.

Q    And just to —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    — to follow up on the issue of, you know, Americans being concerned about the amount of money being sent out to Ukraine: One of the things that the President outlined today in his speech was not just humanitarian assistance, but also allow pensions and social support to be paid to the Ukrainian people. 

So, what would you say to the American public who says, “Okay, it’s one thing to help Ukrainian refugees with food and shelter, but why should we be paying for their pensions?”

MS. PSAKI:  Well, look, I would say that we have provided a range of economic assistance, because we know that their economy has been devastated — not of their doing, because they were invaded by a foreign country.

Q    But how is that —

MS. PSAKI:  And they’re going — let me — let me finish.  And they are going to need assistance in order to recover.  We provide assistance — economic and humanitarian assistance — to a range of countries around the world because that’s part of American leadership.  And so, I would say that’s the reasoning for this assistance being proposed in the package.

Go ahead.

Q    Jen, on menthol — going back to the opposition in the Black community: I talked to Congresswoman Frederica Wilson today, and she said she’s opposing it.  She says the President not — “should not only deal with menthol, but ban all” — instead of just menthol.  She feels that it will cause a profiling issue.  And she also says this is something that should not be dealt with in the midterms because it will split the Black community.  What do you say to that?  And are you talking to Frederica Wilson, Al Sharpton, Ben Crump, and others about this very issue?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, let me try to answer all your questions there.  I’m sure you’ll let me know if I don’t, April, of course. 

You know, this is a public health decision made by the FDA.  And the objective of it was not to address politics or handle politics in one way or another, but to save lives. 

And the studies estimate that with menthol cigarettes — if they’re no longer available, it could prevent over 650,000 deaths, including 238,000 African Americans.  There are also high rates of use by children and young adults.  Menthol also increases the appeal of cigarettes, makes them easier to use, especially for kids. 

And what we have seen, as you know, is decades of targeted marketing activities at the African American community to promote further purchasing and, in many ways — and, for many, addiction to these cigarettes. 

So, this is not — but what I think is important for everybody to know and understand, including opponents, is: This is not targeting individuals.  This is not to give anybody license to arrest somebody who is smoking a cigarette — a menthol cigarette.  This is going after the manufacturers of this.  It is going after those who are selling, because it is — it has — we have seen decades of marketing targeted activities at exactly these communities.

Q    So, with that said — as you say, “decades” — I mean, there has been efforts to stop the targeting through billboards in urban communities in the ‘90s, and on and on.   This is decades old.  But why now?  You know, there’s been progression, but why now instead of other issues?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think, again, this is a public health decision that went through a public health process.  It wasn’t made through a political prism or made, you know, for any other reason than the lives that it could save.

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  At least seven sailors have died by suicide since the USS George Washington began undergoing (inaudible) overhaul.  There have been three just within the last month.  The Navy today confirmed three from prior years.  Is the President aware of these suicides?  Does he have any response to them?  And is the military doing enough to make sure that it is promoting the mental wellbeing of our service members? 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, certainly the President is regularly briefed and is aware.  And the service men and women and the stress and the pressure on them is something that is on his mind, including making sure we have the right mental healthcare, the right treatments for any individual who may be suffering from depression or anything that might lead to suicide. 

In terms of an assessment of what the steps they are taking or what they’re doing, I’d really point you to the Department of Defense, who would be better versed to speak to the specifics.

Q    Sure.  And then to follow up on a question from yesterday about Ukraine and tariffs: The President could — today, if he wanted to — by executive action, undo these Trump-era tariffs on steel imports from Ukraine.  Is there any reason why he wouldn’t do that?  Does it have anything to do with pushback from unions?

MS. PSAKI:  There’s an ongoing consideration and process of reviewing a range of steps we can help — we can take to provide relief to the Ukrainians, a review of tariffs.  But there’s a range of factors.  And I just don’t have anything to preview in that process at this point.

Q    Okay.  But that is something that he is considering?

MS. PSAKI:  There’s a range of options on the table.

Go ahead, in the back.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  I wanted to ask: The House is out next week, and usually that would be where an appropriations bill would start.  Given that the President is saying the COVID funding is so urgent, in addition to the Ukraine proposal, how do you see this playing out legislatively, in the quick that you need it to?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, this is something — now that we’ve put the proposal forward and put it forward and sent it up to the Hill, a lot of the work is happening behind the scenes, engagement with our legislative team — Steve Ricchetti, Louisa Terrell and this team — with leaders on the House side, the Senate side to move it forward as quickly as possible. 

But in terms of the legislative mechanics, I’d really point you to leaders on the Hill for specifics on that.

Q    And one other question on COVID funding.  The Biden administration has been — I don’t know if “reticent” is the right word — to release spending that you’ve done on COVID tests, the rapid testing program, whether it’s how much you spent per test or overall.  Is that information that you’re planning to make public or planning to provide to the Senate and the House as they consider whether to provide more funding?

MS. PSAKI:  The testing program in terms of people being able to order free tests?

Q    Yeah, the COVID tests (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI:  What specifically do you think we haven’t provided?

Q    The amounts that you spent per test or overall per contract —

MS. PSAKI:  I’m sure if members of Congress or committees are interested in information, we’ll have those discussions with them directly. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  Two questions.  My first question is about the security pact between China and the Solomon Islands.  Do you have any concerns that China is taking advantage of what’s going on in the Pacific because the U.S. is so focused on Ukraine and Russia?

MS. PSAKI:  I know we have spoken to this a little bit in the past and expressed some concern at the time.  I’ll have to talk to our national security team and see if we have any — any updates on recent developments.

Q    And I just have one more question about President Biden’s trip to Asia.  Could you confirm reports by some Asian media outlets that are saying that President Biden is going to announce some kind of China strategy during his trip to Korea and Japan?

MS. PSAKI:  Again, this trip is weeks away, which is a lifetime for us, so we’re not quite there yet on previewing specifics of the trip and what it will entail. 

Why don’t we do the last one, and then I got to wrap it up.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  Thank you.  The Minnesota Department of Human Rights found that the city of Minneapolis and the MPD engaged in a pattern of practice of racial discrimination.  They’re working on some consent decree, but we know that can take some time.  Is there anything that the President can do moving forward?  Can we say that the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act seems like it’s shelved for now?  And has the President seen that report?  What’s his reaction?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any direct reaction from the President to that report.  I can certainly check with him on that.  We’re still consid- — continuing to consider a police reform executive order, as you know.  That’s — consideration is underway.  It continues to be underway.  And the President has every intention of signing one. 

And, of course, we would, of cour- — still love to have bipartisan legislation passed through Congress.  We know the anniversary is coming up in just a few weeks.  And certainly, that’s something that remains on the President’s mind. 

Thank you, everyone, so much.

4:07 P.M. EDT 

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