Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jen Psaki
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Cincinnati, Ohio
12:31 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: So, welcome to our trip to Cincinnati. This is my last gaggle on Air Force One, so I have a lot of things to get off my chest. (Laughter.) I’m just kidding.
Okay, I wanted to give you guys a sense of the week ahead.
On Sunday morning, the President will participate in a G7 virtual leaders meeting chaired by German Chancellor Scholz.
The leaders will be joined by President Zelenskyy of Ukraine. They will discuss the latest developments in Russia’s war against Ukraine, the global impact of Putin’s war, showing support for Ukraine and Ukraine’s future, and demonstrating continued G7 unity and our collective response, including building on our unprecedented sanctions to impose severe costs for Putin’s war.
On Monday, President Biden and Vice President Harris will deliver remarks from the Rose Garden on how the Biden-Harris administration is lowering the cost of high-speed Internet for millions of American families and expanding access through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
Also Monday, the President will sign the Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease — Lend-Lease Act of 2022.
Sorry. Next page.
On Tuesday, the President will welcome Prime Minister Mario Draghi of Italy to the White House. They will reaffirm the strong bilateral relationship between Italy and the United States. They will discuss their ongoing coordination with allies and partners on measures to support the people of Ukraine and impose economic costs on Russia for its unprovoked aggression. They will also discuss our close cooperation on promoting global economic prosperity, increasing Europe’s energy security, and combating climate change.
On Wednesday, the President will travel to Chicago, Illinois, to attend the 40th IBEW International Convention.
On Thursday, he will welcome the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, to the White House for dinner.
On Friday, the President will participate in a summit with the ASEAN leaders at the State Department to recognize ASEAN’s central role in delivering sustainable solutions to the region’s most pressing challenges and commemorate 45 years of U.S.-ASEAN relations.
With that, let’s get to your questions.
Q I just want to ask you: Congress has limited the President now on some of his — the administration’s biggest ideas. Build Back Better and the Voting Rights Act has been a frustration. And now, many in the base with — since the Alito leak — are eager for him to push for codifying Roe. But as you pointed out this week, easier said than done.
I’m just wondering: How is the President and the administration looking forward? Is there any sort of angst or frustration about the ability to deliver the big idea?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would first say that the President is incredibly proud of what he has already accomplished to date in 15 months of his presidency. And not only did he get the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed, but 80 bills — bipartisan bills that he has helped lead the effort to move forward and sign into law.
And today he’s going to talk about the Bipartisan Infrastructure — or Innovation Act, and the need to move that forward in order to build more things in the United States, manufacture, make us more competitive here at home, and help address costs for the American people.
He was in the Senate for 36 years. He knows and understands it sometimes takes more time than he would like to get — to get his agenda forward, to get your agenda forward. He also understands that with such a slim majority in the Senate, it requires having either every single Democrat prepared to move forward on, say, the reconciliation package, which we’re still working to move forward, or it requires working in a bipartisan way.
So while I’m not — while I’m not getting into politics here, I would just refer you and also point you to what the President said in his statement about the leaked document the other night, and how — and how having more senators and House members in Congress who support his agenda will help him move it forward.
Q Jen, does the President want protesters to influence Supreme Court justices so that they uphold Roe?
MS. PSAKI: The President believes in peaceful protest. He believes that’s part of our democracy and part of the history of the United States and this country. But he also respects and understands the independence of the third branch of government, and — I mean, obviously, the Justice Department — but also the role of the Supreme Court and what they play.
So I wouldn’t say he has a view on that. He believes in peaceful protests, but they’re going to make decisions they make, and we’re not going to prejudge a final opinion.
Q Can I ask a little bit about the Sunday meeting with the G7?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Is — sanctions are on — new sanctions are on the table.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Can you give us any sense of what kind of sanctions? Are these aimed at individuals, you know, big companies? Is it more about sort of clamping down on people evading the sanctions that are existing? What is the meeting about?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to preview specifically on what’s next other than to say that all of those are steps that we’ve taken to date and we will continue to take to date. So, sanctioning additional individuals, additional companies, and also making sure we’re taking steps to prevent companies or others from evading the sanctions we’ve put in place.
But I don’t have anything to preview at this point about what’s next.
Q Does the President have a particular message to the rest of the G7 that he plans to deliver that was different from the previous meetings?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it should not be lost — the significance — or on anyone — the significance of when the timeline — when his — when this G7 meeting is happening, which is the day before Russia’s Victory Day, which President Putin has certainly projected his desire to mark that day as a day where he is victorious over Ukraine. Of course, he’s not. While he expected to be marching through the streets of Kyiv, that’s obviously not what is going to happen.
But certainly having this meeting and conversation on Sunday is an opportunity to not only show how unified the West is in confronting the aggression and the invasion by President Putin, but also to show that unity requires work; requires effort; requires blood, sweat, and tears sometimes. And the President is committed to continuing to engage to make sure people are unified — that these leaders are unified moving forward.
Q And, finally, we understand many people are attending his speech to — or his event today. Representative Tim Ryan, who just won the nomination, is not planning on being here. Do you have any comment on that — his absence as the new Democratic nominee?
MS. PSAKI: I would just note they have been in touch. My understanding is Congressman Ryan has to attend a funeral and had other events he needed to attend. But the President remains in close touch with him; he’s obviously very supportive of him. And he’s looking forward to having both senators from Ohio there today.
Q Jen, does the President have a position on the — Senator Manchin’s efforts to do a bipartisan climate change bill? Is he aware of that specific bill and those efforts?
MS. PSAKI: He’s certainly aware of them. And the President has long believed that there should be a bipartisan path forward for a range of his ideas, including the importance of addressing the climate crisis and doing more on that front.
We’re not going to prejudge those efforts. But at the same time, we’re not stalling or we’re not delaying our conversations with a range of members about attempting or working to move the reconciliation package forward.
Q And I know that you’re not negotiating in public or with us but —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — can you give us any sense of where those talks stand with regard to climate in the reconciliation bill? It is the beginning of May. The window is closing.
MS. PSAKI: Look, I would say that we made a decision, per the President’s direction, not to talk publicly about conversations he’s having or others are having on the Hill because we feel it’s more constructive that way.
What I can tell you is there is still a great deal of passion and engagement happening behind the scenes. The President is very focused on moving his climate agenda forward. And so he’s going to continue those conversations and continue working until we get it done.
Q Jen —
Q And just one on abortion. Sorry, Franco. Can you give us a sense of whether or not the White House is in touch with women’s groups about this? What is your engagement? What is the level of, probably, both frustration and anger out there at the Supreme Court and perhaps at the White House about this?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of anger at the White House. Others could speak to that. Obviously, this is a leaked — not final — opinion from the Supreme Court. Right? So what our effort and our focus is on is on broadly engaging about the specifics on possible actions and preparing for the release of a final opinion when the — when that is released early this summer.
We are in conversations with a wide range of people, including women’s groups; including pro-choice activists; including folks inside of D.C., outside of D.C.; including business leaders; philanth- — philanthropy; members of Congress; state legislatures; governors; advocacy groups, across the board.
We’re using the convening power of the White House to talk to a broad range of groups. That effort is being led by the Gender Policy Council, which is coordinating work from the Department of Health and Human Services, from the White House Counsel’s Office, from a range of — from the — from the Domestic Policy Council, from a range of officials in the government, working to see what our options are and what levers we have in government.
I would note that we already took steps in reaction to S.B. 8 in Texas, and we will continue to build on them and prepare for a range of options.
I’d also note that today we saw — or yesterday, I should say — we saw that, in Connecticut, Governor Lamont signed a bill that will protect medical providers and patients seeking abortion care in Connecticut who may be traveling from other states that have outlawed abortion. And additionally, the law expands abortion access in Connecticut by expanding the type of practitioners eligible to perform certain abortion-related care.
So, we’re also here and available to states who are looking to take steps to protect women’s rights. Obviously, our pri- — our preference would be for Congress to codify Roe and, of course, for the final opinion not to look like the leaked opinion.
But we are also supportive of states. We’re going to work with a broad range of stakeholders as we prepare for a final opinion to be released.
Q Jen, can you talk a little bit more about the ASEAN Summit — what you hope to get out of that? Will that be — will one of the objectives be building the coalition against Moscow? How much of an objective will that be?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would note that there has been a broad response to the invasion of Ukraine by President Putin and the Russian military, including by a number of countries who are participating. So, certainly, the war in Ukraine will be a topic of discussion, but it’s also an opportunity to discuss security in the region; to discuss our fight against the pandemic, which is ongoing and important on the global front as well; and to discuss a broad range of issues — North Korea as well.
So it has a broad-ranging agenda. The President, as I noted earlier, will be participating in not just hosting a dinner on Thursday evening, but in a two-hour session on Friday afternoon to cover a range of topics.
Q On — more on Ukraine. There has been some discussion or some calls to cut, cancel, or reduce Ukraine’s foreign debt, kind of reduce their burden so they can put that money elsewhere. What’s the administration’s position on that? Does it have a position on whether or not there should be efforts to reduce Ukraine’s foreign debt?
MS. PSAKI: It’s a good question. I’m happy to dig into it further. We’re very open to anything that would help the Ukrainians rebuild their country; obviously fight against the invasion of Russia. And we know that humanitarian and economic assistance that will take many forms — right? — is vital to them and to their success moving forward. And I can check if we have a specific view on the canceling of foreign debt.
Q And finally, from me, just — there’s language in the Ukraine supplementable [sic] — supplemental — excuse me — about Afghan adjustment for status. Can you talk — what’s the status of that?
This has been — this has been tried before and it didn’t make it in. Do you have the support? How important is that to the administration? What’s — what’s the status?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an update on the status in Congress on it. I can also see if there’s an update we have from here. I’d really ask members —
Q How important is it for the White House to get it in now?
MS. PSAKI: As you noted, it’s something that we have supported in the past. But I — I can’t — there’s — there’s a lot of factors at play here, so I can’t — I can’t speak to that.
Q One the news that the House is voting on a resolution next week to — for congressional workers’ right to organize, does the White House have a position on that? Does the President take a position on that?
MS. PSAKI: I can — I can check more into the specifics of it. I don’t think we’ve taken a specific position on it. Obviously, I haven’t looked at the details of it. The President has been a supporter of the right to organize, of collective bargaining for some time. But I’d have to look into more details of what the other components of it are.
Q On Ukraine, maybe, we’ve seen reports about how U.S. intelligence is helping the Ukrainians take out generals and ships. Is there a risk that those revelations could help the Russians in the sense that they go with the rhetoric of a proxy war and that this could lead to further escalation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say, to speak to the reports: They’re inaccurate. We did not provide Ukraine with specific targeting information for the Moskva. We were not involved in the Ukrainians’ decision to strike the ship or in the operation they carried out. We had no prior knowledge of Ukraine’s intent to target the ship. The Ukrainians have their own intelligence capabilities to track and target Russian naval vessels, as they did in this case.
And I’ve discussed this with both our National Security Advisor and the President, and the view is that, one, this is an inaccurate over-claiming of our role and an under-claiming of the role of the Ukrainians who, frankly, have a greater level of intelligence and access to intelligence than we do.
They take — we do provide a range of intelligence to help them understand the threat posed by Russian ships in the Black Sea and to help them prepare to defend themselves against potential sea-based assaults, but they take our intelligence and they combine that with what they have access to. And so, on this specific report, it’s just not an accurate depiction of how this happened.
Q Has the President tested in the last few days? There’s, sort of, such a surge post-White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner.
MS. PSAKI: He is regularly tested, as you know. The last test I’m aware of was Tuesday. I can check if there has been an additional test. And he was obviously negative then.
Q What did we not ask you that you’re prepared to answer today, Jen? (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Oh, my gosh. I don’t — I don’t know, Jeff. What’s — what else is on your mind?
Q Can we ask you just on the job numbers —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — today? You know, good job numbers, but with the Fed hike, are we seeing the end of the bump of, you know, just what the economy can do as a result of the Fed rate — pushing up the interest rates? And what’s the way forward from there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to speak — I mean, the Fed and, obviously, Chairman Powell spoke to a lot of that earlier this week, so I’m going to let those comments stand.
What I would note, though, is that, you know, the jobs numbers today — 428,000 jobs in April — bring the total number of jobs created by — under the President’s watch to 8.3 million. What he will talk about — which we are very encouraged by.
It is also true that inflation is too high, that costs are too high. And what he will also talk about today is what we can do to address that.
And his view is that we need to do — take a couple of steps. One is, of course, lowering costs for families and taking steps like addressing the supply chain manufacturing goods in the United States, which the Bipartisan Innovation Act would help do. And launching the initiative he’s launching today — the administration is launching today — will help do — will help make sure that by manufacturing goods here, we’re lowering those costs.
Obviously, he’s taken a lot of steps to address energy costs, which we know is a major driver of inflation. And the other piece that he’s very focused on, that you’ve heard him talk about, is lowering the deficit. And he talked about, earlier this week, the revised Treasury — the data, which showed that we lowered the deficit — he lowered the deficit by $300 billion and on track to lower it by $1.5 trillion.
So, you’ll hear him talk about all of that today. We know that’s on the minds of Americans. And we certainly understand that with an unemployment rate of 3.6 percent, that — you know, with that historically low number, that, you know, things will level. And we understand that and recognize that as well.
Q Just a follow-up on —
Q You said —
Q I’m sorry, Aamer.
Q Is there a sort of deadline/goal line for when the President wants to see the Bipartisan Innovation Act passed?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we know it’s in conference now, which is certainly a good sign. And he has been out there making the case in the country because he does believe that this is a piece of legislation that there is bipartisan support for it, there should be — because certainly manufacturing goods in the United States, making sure we’re not relying on the whims of a dictator, is to the advantage of all of the American people.
Q To follow-up on that topic broadly, is the White House concerned about the risk of recession? You hear more and more people using that word recently. Is that — to what extent is that on your radar, and is it a concern?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re always looking at economic data, of course. But what we also look at is signs of strength in the economy, which is not just the jobs numbers and continued economic growth. It’s also — even in the GDP numbers earlier — was it earlier this week, or last week? It’s all running together. We saw business investment. We saw — we saw — the fact that the export numbers were down was actually because we are doing better than the rest of the world.
So, there is still a range of data that we look at and a lot of outside economists, frankly, look at to show where we are in the economy at this point in time. So, that’s not something we are predicting at this point. We know some people can make their own predictions on the outside, but we’re not assessing that or making that prediction at this point.
Q Can I ask you on the SPR? There was notice this week of the buybacks, but that’ll take some time. Can you give us a sense of the timeline on that? How quickly will the U.S. begin replenishing the barrels that it is drawing down over the next months?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, that’s a good question. I mean, it was — as you noted, it was yesterday we announced the start of that process to replenish. So, we would have that ability to have the supply at a higher level so we could have it for the future.
I can check and see how — the length of time of that — what that will take.
Q The markets kind of jumped. They were thinking the U.S. was immediately buying it back, but it didn’t seem like that was the case.
MS. PSAKI: Yes. I don’t think it’s an overnight thing, but I will see if we have a timeline of that.
Q Going back to COVID quickly: As someone referenced earlier, there’s been a spike of cases following the Correspondents’ Dinner. With the upcoming foreign trip, is the President taking any additional mitigation strategies to ensure that he can go on the trip, and, you know, make sure he doesn’t test positive before his next foreign trip?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would first say that we have a range of strict protocols in the White House that go far beyond what the CDC requirements are, including the fact that everybody who is meeting with the President is tested, everybody who is traveling with him is tested. We take steps to make sure we’re socially distanced in meetings, and we wear masks in meetings with the President.
And he, of course, is tested regularly. He went to the Correspondents’ Dinner to honor the work of all of you and your colleagues and made a decision — a risk assessment, like we all do every day, that that was important for him to do.
But beyond that, we’ll just continue the strict protocols we already have in place.
Q Speaking of international travel, is the U.S. considering lifting its testing requirements for people flying in? Other countries have started to pull back those sorts of measures. Is that on the table at all?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of a timeline for that. Obviously, we are — we are basing any decisions on the CDC and what their recommendations are.
Q The CDC said on May 3rd that they still recommend masking on airplanes. They did not say whether they would have extended that rule had the court not knocked it down. Because it would have — that would have been the sort of pivot point, regardless of the court ruling.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Do you know whether they would have extended it regardless of that? And is there any update on the appeal that DOJ has stuck its foot in the door on?
MS. PSAKI: I would really point at the Department of Justice. They’ve indicated their plans to appeal, and that has been the case for several weeks now. I can’t speak to what the CDC would or wouldn’t have done. Obviously, they made a decision, and we still have a masking require- — or recommendation in place. And — but, you know, it’s hard to get into a reverse hypothetical.
Q And, finally, can you give a sense: Does the President view the Roe v. Wade potential repeal, the issue more broadly, as a core message for Democrats heading into the midterms? And if so, or regardless, who does he think should be giving that message? Is it him? Is it the Vice President? Should, frankly, men be out in front on it? Should women be out in front on it? Does it matter? Who does he think — does he think Democrats should be leaning into this issue? And if so, who does he think should be leaning into it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you saw in his initial written statement that he spoke to, you know, the need to have more Democrats — pro-choice Democrats in Congress in order to codify Roe. And that spoke to his view of politics, without me getting into it too much.
I think his view is that it should be all of the above: him, the Vice President, any others. And, you know, as it relates — what was the last part of your question?
Q Does he think Democrats should make this a key issue, or is it sort of one of a range of issues?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, you heard the President, two days ago, talk about the Ultra-MAGA Agenda. And what he’s referring to there — yes, he spoke about Chairman Scott’s plan to raise taxes on people making less than $100,000 a year; he’s also talking about the advocacy by some in — elected officials, Republicans — to take away a woman’s right to make choices about her own body and make choices with their doctor. And his view is that is another example of the Ultra-MAGA Agenda as well.
Q Is the timing of this trip just — you know, Tuesday, they had their primary. Is he going in part to also contrast the Democratic agenda versus what some of the people that may be coming in and what they’re offering?
MS. PSAKI: I think you will see him do a whole lot of that moving forward, but today is — his remarks are largely focused on making the case for the Bipartisan Innovation Act, how it would help us manufacture jobs in the United States, lower costs, make us more competitive.
Q One quick follow-up on Ukraine. Ukraine’s Ambassador to the U.S. told reporters yesterday that a definition of “victory” would include restoring sovereignty to Crimea and the Donbas region. Is that a definition the White House supports in terms of victory for Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: We have long said that we would support the Ukrainians and their efforts through negotiations in a diplomatic process to determine what victory looks like.
But I would say that, in our view, the victory or the definition of victory that President Putin outlined from the beginning — which was taking over Ukraine, taking over their territorial integrity, their sovereignty, dividing NATO, dividing the West — has been ineffective — has been ineffective. And, therefore, because President Putin will not be marching through the streets of Kyiv, we’ve already won in many ways.
Q The President has also said he’s going to host his vaccine summit — his second vaccine summit on — next Thursday, the 12th.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q What is he hoping to get out of that?
MS. PSAKI: It’s an opportunity to lift up the need to continue to fight around the world to combat COVID, and the fact that our job is not done, there is great deal of work ahead.
The United States remains far and away the largest provider of vaccines and know-how to the global community. The world needs to continue to do more. It’s an opportunity to discuss that.
I think we should all sit down. Okay. Thank you, everyone.
12:55 P.M. EDT