Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, May 3, 2022
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Montgomery, Alabama
12:52 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Okay, given I already did an extensive rundown yesterday of what we will be doing here in Troy, why don’t we just get to your questions?
Q So, the President spoke pretty passionately on the tarmac about the Alito draft being an affront to basic rights. But he also said he was not ready to commit to ending the filibuster to codify Roe. Why?
And is there a disconnect here between the passion and what needs — what he believes needs to be done?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me say the President’s position is that we need to codify Roe, and that is what he has long called on Congress to act on.
What is also true is that there has been a vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act which would do exactly that, and there were not even enough votes, even if there was no filibuster, to get that done.
So, I would note, in his written statement that we released this morning — I’m just going to reiterate what he said in this statement. He said, “…if the Court does overturn Roe, it will fall on our nation’s elected officials at all levels of government to protect a woman’s right to choose” — to do exactly that. “It will fall on voters to elect pro-choice officials this November. At the federal level, we will need more pro-choice senators and a pro-choice majority in the House to adopt legislation.” And that was speaking to exactly where we are with the votes.
I would note that while we’ve been in the air, Leader Schumer noted that he had plans to bring this up for a vote.
Q Are you surprised that this leaked out? What do you think about the leak itself?
MS. PSAKI: Look, I think this is — because it is unprecedented — or almost unprecedented, depending on what historian you speak to — there’s no question that that raises eyebrows for many in the country, including those of us in the White House.
But what our focus is on right now, beyond the leak, is — is how we’re going to protect a woman’s right to make choices about her healthcare with her doctor — a right that is supported by the vast majority of the American public.
And some call it a political issue. It is not. It is supported by the majority of the American public.
Q But when you look at the solutions that you put forward in that statement or the actions that the White House was considering taking, a lot of those take time. So, what is the White House’s message to women around the country who are waking up today and realizing their daughters and their — you know, younger women in this country may have less constitutional rights than they had in their lifetime?
MS. PSAKI: Let me say first: This law has not changed. We know that it was — the Supreme Court has said the draft itself was legitimate, but they did not say this was the final conclusion. So, women waking up today — their daughters still have the same rights they had yesterday.
But I will note, though, that we have already seen, in a number of states, actions taken that severely limit women’s fundamental rights across the country — a right that has been law for 50 years.
And what we have done already to date is take steps through our Gender Policy Council to provide and expand access wherever we can with our capacity.
So, for example, we created the Dire Need Grant awards, which provide funding to expand access to emergency contraception and family planning services, and recently announced $6.6 million in awards made to aid grantees around the country.
In addition to immediate legal action by the Department of Justice against Texas, the Attorney General released a statement in response to SB 8 that reaffirmed the Department of Justice’s commitment to using existing federal law to protect the safety of patients seeking access to reproductive health services, including abortion, pursuant to their criminal and civil enforcement of the FACE Act.
That’s important for anybody waking up today and confused about what their rights are. They have rights. This has not changed.
Finally, the Department of Health and Human Services has announced a three-pronged, department-wide response to protect patients and providers in response to the Texas law SB 8.
What I would note and the President also said in his statement this morning is that he’s directed his Gender Policy Council and the White House Counsel’s Office to prepare options for an administration response to the continued and obviously more expansive attack on abortion and reproductive rights.
Q So, since then — since the Texas law banned most abortions and the White House said that there was going to be a whole-of-government response to that — so, mostly, it’s just the things that you just read. Are there any other actions that the administration did take?
MS. PSAKI: Those were some of the steps that have been announced. But what I would note is that we will continue — and he direc- — he has directed the Gender Policy Council and the Counsel’s Office to prepare and to be prepared to respond.
There are things that we know because states have said them, so I would note that if Roe fails, abortion would probably be illegal in about half the states. Up to 26 states — particularly in the South, Midwest, and West — are poised to further restrict or ban access depending on the Court’s decision. And that’s beca- — and partly because 13 states have trigger laws, which means that they would immediately trigger banning abortion.
As a result of that, tens of millions of women may lack access to reproductive healthcare services. Abortion bans and restrictions will also dramatically reduce access to reproductive care, particularly for women with low income, women of color, and women in rural communities.
We know through the data that we’ve already looked at that 75 percent of those seeking abortion are living at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. And the majority of patients seeking abortions identify as Black, Hispanic, and AAPI.
So, it’s important for everybody to understand that the people who would be impacted the most are lower income, are people who would have to take off work, are people who would have to find a way to travel, people who would have to find a way to get childcare.
I would also note that 60 percent of people who seek an abortion are moms already.
Q So, is the White House starting to put together a plan just in case the Supreme Court does overturn Roe —
MS. PSAKI: That is exactly what the President said in his statement.
Q To follow up on Jen —
Q Can you speak to a timeline of the —
Q Can I follow up on what Jen said, though?
Q Oh, okay.
Q To follow up on what Jen was saying, though — that back in December, you had said in a statement — we’ve heard the President say this — about the work he would be doing to work with lawmakers on codifying Roe.
Can you give us examples, now that we are in early May, from that time in December of where this has been on his priority list? How has he engaged with lawmakers on this? Anything specific of what he has done beyond the Gender Policy Council.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s important to note that there has been a vote on this; it failed. It did not have even 50 votes, which means even if the filibuster were overturned, there would have not had been enough votes to get this passed. He has stated this many times publicly. This is his known position. This is many of — one of many topics he discusses with lawmakers.
I would note again that Leader Schumer indicated he plans to bring it up again. But in the President’s statement, just to reiterate, what he pointed to is the fact that there needs to be a more — more pro-choice officials after the elections in November.
Q Jen, the — if all the polling is correct and abortion rights folks have public sentiment on their side, why have people continued to vote for a party that wants to do away with abortion rights?
MS. PSAKI: That sounds like a question for those people who vote that way.
Q May I circle back to Steve’s question on the leak itself? Does the President agree with Justice Roberts that this was an egregious act? And does he believe that it should be criminally prosecuted?
MS. PSAKI: This would be a decision made by the Department of Justice, and we would refer to them.
Q So, is this a live issue for you to push on the campaign trail this year, to try to help elect more pro-choice people?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not — I can’t and I’m not going to speak to politics from this gaggle. But I would again point you to the President’s statement, where he very clearly refere- — addressed exactly that question.
Q On court packing: Has this raised any more discussions within the White House about the Supreme Court?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, you know, the President — there’s a commission that was put together. The commission put together a report not on recommendations, but to look at the big legal questions that have been out there for some time.
The 30-member commission — member commission, with a diversity of views, put together a report that the President has been reviewing, so we have no update on his position on expansion of the Court.
Q Hey, Jen, I wonder what this says about the state of our democracy that, you know, abortion is an issue that a large number, a large swath of Americans agree with, yet we continue to see these consistent attacks, you know, by a party that represents a minority of Americans. Does this say something about the state of our democracy?
MS. PSAKI: Look, I think the reason that I felt and the President felt it was important for me to reiterate who this impacts is because, right now, this is a moment to educate the public on what the impact would be. Right? It is often shorthanded — not by any of us but in public discourse — as a political issue, as a wedge issue. It is not a wedge issue. The majority of the public supports women’s fundamental rights. And the people who would be impacted overwhelmingly are lower-income and are people of color. And we need to be clear about that in how we communicate about it so everybody understands as we — as this battle begins.
Q We heard the President talk about other rights. He talked about birth control. He brough up same-sex marriage. Can you expand on that, of just the concern at the White House about knowing this is a draft opinion, not finalized —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — of what this means for other things and the precedent it could set?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, I think what you heard the President say to all of you under the wing reflects what has been front and center on his mind.
Obviously, there’s a lot to say about this leaked report. And when he was — last night, his Chief of Staff called him to alert him of the news and the report, we made the decision to take some time to do a thorough and thoughtful written statement this morning.
And obviously, he made the decision to speak to all of you under the wing. And what you heard him talk about is a reflection of his time as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, as somebody who has read, reviewed, looked at many Supreme Court decisions, and the fa- — and his concern — his personal concern, his concern as President of the United States about the precedent of this or what other fundamental rights, as you heard him say, could be at risk.
Q Who told him that the draft was legitimate? Was it — like, did the Chief Justice call him, or who informed the President?
MS. PSAKI: There were reports about it, and so we let him know that there had been reports right before he arrived.
Q So it was a White House staffer —
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q — who telephoned him in the car?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q Okay. Okay.
Q You mentioned that the President would, after the midterms, that he wanted to see more pro-life lawmakers in office. But will he be —
MS. PSAKI: Pro-choice.
Q Oh, pro-choice. Excuse me. Would there be — is he making any effort prior to the midterms to connect with lawmakers to try and increase the number of votes that could vote for the legislation that Senator Schumer wants to bring forward?
MS. PSAKI: Again, you know, this is his publicly stated view, something that he has made clear privately on many occasions as well. But I think it’s also important to note, again, that we did not have the 50 votes.
If there — if there was a bill sent to his desk to codify Roe, he’d be happy to sign it. We did not have even 50 votes, even if the filibuster were overturned.
Q But does he want to spend some time to try and increase that number — work with lawmakers; make personal pleas; you know, talk to them about this?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. And I think you should talk to the lawmakers about whether their minds are changeable. I think you saw what the President said in his statement about what we all have a responsibility to focus on in the coming months.
Q Is there anything that the White House thinks that there is enough votes for before the midterms?
MS. PSAKI: Like what?
Q On anything related to abortion. And —
MS. PSAKI: I can’t, in this moment, make an assessment of that. Obviously, codifying Roe is something the President would strongly support and would be happy to sign into law.
Q Jen, on this visit today to Alabama, is there any concern that going and visiting the factory that is being used to make the munitions that are destroying the tanks in Russia right — or not in Russia, but in Ukraine — Russian army tanks — that it’s kind of bragging about what we’re doing and it will only escalate?
MS. PSAKI: The President is visiting this factory today to showcase American manufacturing, American ingenuity, and the power of the American military and capacity to support the Ukrainians as they’re fighting a war against Russian aggression.
And so, no, he does not have that fear. In fact, he feels this is an opportunity to thank the American people for their support in our effort to support the Ukrainians.
Q On Brittney Griner — can I ask you on that?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Now that the U.S. government considers her to be wrongfully detained by the Russian government, in practical terms, what does that new distinction mean in terms of what the administration will be doing to try and secure her release? Will the White House talk about her case more now that it has shifted to this?
MS. PSAKI: So, that is a determination we’d make in coordination with the hostage negotiator and the — and the State Department. So,
Richard [Roger] Car- — Richard [Roger]? — yes — Carstens would now be engaged in this. So this was a determination made by the State Department and — and released, obviously, last night.
But typically — and I don’t believe this will change — in order to — to leave the space to have an outcome we all want and desire — which is to bring her and any American detained or unjustifiably detained home — we typically don’t talk about it extensively.
Q Are you expecting Ru- — look, just one — one more Ukraine thing. Are you expecting Russia to try to annex areas of eastern Ukraine on — by May 9th or on May 9th?
Q And officially declare war by May 9th?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any predictions of exactly what President Putin or the Russian military will do by May 9th. But I think you saw a State — the State Department go out yesterday and make clear that we did assess that one of the considerations — and — and we have a valid reason to believe this, that would be straight out of Russia’s playbook — would be for them to organize sham referrals — referenda in Crimea, in Luhansk, in Donetsk, and in other places to try to del- — delegitimize democratically elected leaders and impose fake people’s councils essentially made up of the Kremlin’s puppets and proxies.
We’ve seen them do this before. And so, what they went out yesterday to — to announce was based on our assessment — a highly credible assessment. But in terms of the timeline, I don’t have any update on that for you.
Q On — sorry about that. On Javelins, you made the point yesterday they’ve been very effective, but there’s been quite a substantial drawdown — both of the Javelins and the Stingers, which has also been effective. Are we now at a point where the Javelin and the Stinger is going to be put on a pause in what can be shipped to Ukrainians until both Lockheed and Raytheon can backfill the orders on these?
MS. PSAKI: I would say, first, the biggest challenge we have is the funding — right? — because we have a limited amount of drawdown funding left, as you know, which is why the President is also going to talk about the urgency of getting the supplemental package through. We have about $250 million left, as you know.
But we — our Defense Department assesses, of course, ensuring that we have the capacity and the ability to not only deliver what we promised but also to — to backfill our needs, which is part of what we’ve requested in the — in the funding moving forward.
Q On the threats from Russia about nuclear weapons or the loose talk about nuclear weapons, what kind of diplomatic efforts the do the — do we, the United States, have right now to talk them off of that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, we find their rhetoric to be completely unconstructive and inconsistent with what many Russian officials have said many times in the past, which is that there is no winning a nuclear war. So, we have not made any changes in our assessment right now of — our
substantive assessment of what is happening on the ground.
But, again, we continued to encourage them to and call on them to reduce the rhetoric, given we all know that a nuclear war cannot be won.
Q On student debt, what does the administration think are adequate income caps for any of the student forgiveness programs?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President talked, back on the campaign, about taking steps or looking at steps to help people making less than $125,000 a year, so that is the frame through which he’s considering — making considerations at this point.
And it’s Roger Carstens. Sorry, I butchered his name, and I didn’t mean to. He does very important work for the government. Remarkable work. Maybe some of the most important work.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, everyone.
1:08 P.M. EDT