Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, May 10, 2022
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:40 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Okay. It’s a little rowdy in here today.
All right. Tomorrow, the President will visit a family farm in Kankakee, Illinois, with the Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, to discuss the impact of President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine on the rise in food prices at home and abroad.
He’s going to talk about the support we need to continue to give to farmers to help continue to produce more and more domestically to help address the food shortages that we’re seeing in some parts of the world.
We know that U.S. agricultural exports can help address that and can play an important role. Just as we are providing weapons, we are going to work on doing more we can to support farmers to provide more wheat and other food around the world. He’ll talk about that tomorrow.
We’ll also — we’ll also see tomorrow morning the latest inflation numbers for the month of April. And the President will deliver remarks on the effect of Putin’s price hike on the cost of food and energy, and his administration’s actions to support farmers and food processers, lower their costs, and lower prices for families.
Later in the day, the President will give remarks at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ — IBEW — 40th Convention in Chicago, Illinois, on his support for union jobs in the infrastructure and energy industries.
I also wanted to note for all of you that this afternoon, soon, in the next couple of hours, the President will host Speaker Pelosi and other members of a congressional delegation who recently traveled to Ukraine in the Situation Room.
The President previously spoke to Speaker Pelosi about the delegation’s trip by phone. As we said earlier this month, he wanted to hear a more thorough account of their time in Ukraine, in person, after they returned to the United States. So this is an opportunity to do exactly that.
The President is eager to hear from them and to continue working together on their shared bipartisan goal of providing Ukraine with additional urgensly [sic] — urgently needed security and economic assistance as soon as possible. And we’ve heard good news about that, hopefully moving forward soon.
With that, go ahead, Josh.
Q Thanks, Jen. Three things. First, I wanted to — I was hoping to clarify something President Biden said today on inflation. He said his policies helped, rather than hurt, on inflation. Does the President believe that his COVID relief package played any role in the increase in inflation last year?
MS. PSAKI: The President believes, as many economists, including within the government, that the main drivers of inflation were the pandemic — have been the pandemic and our ongoing fight to address that, as well as President Putin’s invasion into Ukraine and the impact on energy prices.
What the President has done is taken steps to address both of those enormous, enormous challenges and tried to put forward solutions to them.
We’ll leave it to the Federal Reserve, outside economists, inside economists to make other projections on what’s next. They’ve already made projections about when they expect inflation to come down.
As he noted today, he is the President. We do- — do control all forms of — branches of government. That’s why he laid out very clearly what he’ll continue to do as President to bring down prices.
Q So then, just to make sure, like, what he’s saying is: The pandemic is distinct from the spending in response to the pandemic, and he does not believe the size of the spending mattered with regard to inflation?
MS. PSAKI: Again — no. He — and we have — we have spoken to this in the past, Josh, as you know. The President made a decision that in order to address what was in part a
economic crisis that came in, in conjunction with the pandemic, that we needed to put forward the American Rescue Plan.
And without it, the economy would have gotten worse. People would not have been able to put food on the table. We would not have 100 percent of schools open today.
So, no, he does not think that is the driver. He knows the pandemic was the driver. There was, of course, an accompanying economic downturn as a result. And we’ve seen in recent months the impact of President Putin’s invasion and the energy prices that have gone up and been a main driver of inflation.
Q Gotcha. Secondly, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi just now pushed for a limited ceasefire to allow talks to resume between Russia and Ukraine. Does the U.S. believe that these talks would be productive?
MS. PSAKI: We certainly believe that this will be resolved through a diplomatic process and a diplomatic solution. But we know and you heard, I think, our Director of National Intelligence on Capitol Hill today say that we don’t see a sign from the Russians that they are open to or eager to invade — engage in those discussions.
There have been several fits and starts at attempts at ceasefires, even in smaller parts of the country, in Ukraine, as you know. We’ve been supportive of all of those, but it requires the Russians being at the table and being willing to take part in a diplomatic process.
And then lastly, Mexico’s President said he might not go to Los Angeles for the Summit of the Americas if the U.S. doesn’t invite Cuba and Nicaragua and Venezuela. What does President Biden plan to do?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the invitations have not yet been issued. The summit is not until early June — June 10th — 6th through the 10th, I should say. We know that the summit is a valuable opportunity to focus on some of the most important shared issues, like the ongoing fight for freedom and democracy for every country; our shared climate goals; a stronger, more collaborative COVID-19 response; and addressing the root causes of migration, like going after organized crime and economic instability.
But no invitations have been issued at this point.
Q On gas prices, despite the steps the President has taken, despite tapping the strategic oil reserve, prices have hit a new high at $4.37 a gallon. How long should Americans be prepared to pay this much at the pump?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say — you heard the President say today and reiterate today that he is relentlessly focused on easing Putin’s price hike at the pump. And that means taking as many steps as he can to continue to lower costs for Americans.
Now, the steps that he can take and he has taken, of course, include a historic release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, leading the world in their release to ensure there’s more supply in the global markets, to reduce the price of oil — which is exactly what it has done.
He’s also taken steps that are definitely smaller but meant to do anything possible, including issuing a waiver for E15 so that thousands of pumps in the Midwest could have gasoline that — and make it available to Americans so that that’s 10 cents less.
But he also has noted, and we would note — and he noted this this morning — that oil companies should also do their part in ensuring they’re not price gouging customers at the pump. As oil prices come down, so should gas prices at the pump. And that’s also something that we are going to continue to watch closely and continue to call on steps to be taken.
But given that the steps taken so far haven’t been able to bring down prices, can Americans be confident that some of the steps that you’re outlining now will be able to have an effect? Or is it just going stay this way — is Putin’s price hike going to stay until Putin’s war is over?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly won’t accept that. But what I think is important to note is the oil market is global. And what the President can do and will continue to do is ensure he’s doing everything in his power to ensure that supply in the market meets the demand out there in the market.
But the point is: When there is enough oil out there in the market, oil prices come down, as we’ve seen them come down, and gas prices should also come down. And that is something that Americans should be watching closely and be clear about where we’re seeing price hikes come from.
Q I just have a question on messaging. Who came up with this phrase “Ultra-MAGA”? Why the need to kick it up a notch? MAGA wasn’t enough? I mean, why now use this phrase?
MS. PSAKI: I will tell you, it is — it is the President’s phrase, and the President made those comments himself just last week, as you know.
And I think what has struck him is how extreme some of the policies and proposals are that a certain wing of the Republican Party — that is taking up too much of the Republican Party — are for and are advocating for.
And you — you’ve heard the President talk about this. It’s — but it’s not just obviously putting at risk a woman’s right to make choices about her own healthcare.
It is also, as you heard him talk about this morning, Rick Scott’s extreme plan that will raise taxes on 75 million Americans making less than $100,000 a year.
It is Rick Scott’s plan to get rid of, eliminate — that’s what “sunset” means: “get rid of” — Medicare and Social Security, something people over 70 in this country rely on.
And it’s also the obsession with culture wars and wars against Mickey Mouse and banning books. The President thinks that’s extreme. That is not what the American people care about or what they want.
And so, to him, adding a little “ultra” to it, give it a little extra pop.
Q So then who is an “Ultra-MAGA” Republican?
MS. PSAKI: I would say people who support that portion of the Republican agenda.
Q So, Rob Portman, Susan Collins, Mitt Romney, would they be “Ultra-MAGA” Republicans?
MS. PSAKI: They can all make their own choices, Ed. And I can — we can let others evaluate that.
But I would say that the President’s view is: Those who support a plan by Rick Scott — by Chairman Scott, that would raise taxes on 75 million Americans and get rid of, “sunset,” eliminate — whatever you want to call it — Medicare and Social Security, that’s a MAGA position.
And that includes the Chairman of the Republican National Committee. That’s a MAGA position. That is the chairman of the party.
So that’s what the President considers. But also, obviously, given two thirds of the American people, according to a Fox News poll, believe that women’s — that Roe v. Wade should be protected, if you’re on the other side of that, you’re supporting an “Ultra-MAGA” position, in the President’s view.
So we’ll let — we don’t need to name-call individuals unless they have positions that are aligned with what he feels is the “Ultra-MAGA” wing of the party.
Q Two other quick on foreign affairs. Just to follow up on Josh’s question, you said invites to the Summit of the Americas haven’t gotten out.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Can you confirm, though, that someone from Venezuela, someone from Nicaragua, someone from Cuba will actually be invited to the summit?
MS. PSAKI: I can’t because a final decision has not been made yet.
Q You don’t rule out that those three countries might be exempted?
MS. PSAKI: We haven’t made a decision about who will be invited, and no invitations have been issued yet.
Q And then, last night at a fundraiser in suburban Washington, the President said this about Vladimir Putin, quote: “He is a very, very, very calculating man. And the problem I worry about now is that he doesn’t have a way out right now, and I’m trying to figure out what we do about that.”
Can you describe how that process is going?
MS. PSAKI: What we do —
Q Does it involve — does it involve, for example, considering the Italian Prime Minister’s suggestion that there be a temporary ceasefire for talks?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, to be clear, we’ve long supported ceasefires. It requires both the parties, including the party that has invaded the other country, to be a part of that, and they haven’t shown a willingness to sit at the negotiating table.
So I think there have been efforts, as you know — humanitarian ceasefires and others — in a limited fashion in the past and in the past couple of months, which the Russians have failed to implement.
What the President meant by this, and I — and I talked to him about exactly that this morning — or what he was referring to is the fact that, as we all know and we all have seen and you all have reported, this war has not gone as President Putin has planned. You know, he has seen his military be demoralized. He did not march through the city of Kyiv yesterday. NATO and the West are united. And right now, he’s dealing with crippling financial sanctions in his country while he has become a pariah in the world.
So what the President’s point was is that we have to be clear-eyed about the impact that has on a dictator that has invaded another country, a sor- — a sovereign country that it hasn’t gone as plan- — as he thought it would go.
Q If he’s so concerned, why not try to directly engage Putin himself?
MS. PSAKI: I would say our role right now — we feel the most constructive role is to continue to support the Ukrainians’ hands at the negotiating table and support them militarily. And I would note that our support — obviously, their bravery and courage has been what has helped them win the Battle of Kyiv, but our military assistance, the assistance — our humanitarian and economic assistance is a — is a close second.
Q So, today, the President said that a “majority” of Republicans have signed on to Senator Scott’s tax plan. That does not seem to be the case. Senator Scott said that today. Mitch McConnell had said that the party is not behind this. Are there any Republicans that you can think of or the President might be referencing that is currently behind this?
MS. PSAKI: Do you count the chairman of the Republican Committee as an important Republican?
Q He is the chairman of a committee. But if no other Repub- —
MS. PSAKI: She. It’s actually a “she.” The chairman of the Republican Party —
Q I thought you were referring to Scott there. I —
MS. PSAKI: So, Chairman Ronna McD- — Ronna McDaniel praised Senator Scott’s proposal as a, quote, “clear plan” for Republicans that offers, quote, “real solutions.”
She’s the chairwoman of the party. Rick Scott is not a random senator. He is literally in charge of winning back the Senate for Republicans and what the plan is. So he is the person who’s put forward this plan.
Senator Ron Johnson has called the Congressional GOP plan a, quote, “positive thing.” Senator Mike Braun has said he was, quote, “glad Rick did it.” Senator Tommy Tuberville said he was, quote, “on board” with the Congressional GOP plan. Congressman Matt Gaetz said he was, quote, “proud of Senator Rick Scott for
providing [producing] this bold agenda.”
So not only that, which seems to be quite a range of Republicans, but there isn’t an alternative plan they’ve put forward. So it’s either this, put together by the person who is leading the effort to win back the Senate, or nothing.
And the President this morning talked about what his plan is. If they have an alternative plan, we would welcome them putting it forward.
Q And he did say one was coming in this summer. And as far as Senator Scott goes, he acknowledged today that a majority is not behind him. He says this is his individual plan for this.
I do want to ask, as well — I mean, the Department of Justice was very swift in responding to school board members who felt like they were being harassed and intimidated a couple months back. Does the President feel that the demonstrations outside of, say, Justice Alito’s home — are those attempts to interfere or intimidate?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I said yesterday, but I’m happy to repeat because I think it’s important for everybody to hear, that the President’s longstanding view has been that violence, threats, and imitat- — intimidation of any kind have no place in political discourse. And we believe, of course, in peaceful protest.
What I do find is interesting, and I think most — many people have noted, is that there are voices on the right who have called out this — protests that are happening — while remaining silent for years on protests that have happened outside of the homes of school board members, the Michigan Secretary of State, or including threats made to women seeking repo- — reproductive healthcare, or even an insurrection against our Capitol.
So I know that there’s an outrage right now, I guess, about protests that have been peaceful to date — and we certainly continue to encourage that — outside of judges’ homes. And that’s the President’s position. But the silence is pretty deafening about all of the other intimidation that we’ve seen to a number of people.
Q This is a pending court case though. That’s where the federal law comes into place. This is a pending court case.
MS. PSAKI: Well, but I think that intimidation and protests — and intimidation outside of the homes of school board members, the Michigan Secretary of State — you know, intimidation and threats against people seeking legal reproductive healthcare — and against our Capitol and American democracy also warrant some outrage. And we haven’t really seen that.
Q Jen, you mentioned this a bit yesterday, but the situation has changed since then: We’ve now heard a bipartisan Senate proposal resolution from Senators Blumenthal and Graham who are urging the Biden — or would be urging the Biden administration to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism under Vladimir Putin. Is there any new information, from your view, on that? Is that something the President supports? And if not, why not?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we expect, certainly — and Speaker Pelosi said this yesterday, that this is a topic she will raise — or we’ll leave it to her if she wants to raise it when she meets with the President today.
Q What’s his view?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would note, as the President has said in the past, this is a process that — a legal process that the State Department goes through and reviews. And what they look at — it’s defined by statute — by Congress, actually. They take a look at the law and undergo a review of whether somebody has violated or a country has violated international terrorism laws. And that is what they look closely at.
I would note — and when Speaker Pelosi spoke to this yesterday, and others, they expressed a desire and an interest in making sure we were doing everything we could — maximum efforts — to hold Russia accountable.
And — and they looked at, understandably, what has been done to other countries that have been labeled state sponsors of terrorism. Only four, of course, have — have been designated that way.
And we have been doing, already, what has happened to those other countries. So, extensive financial sanctions, export controls, also working diplomatically to limit investment by other countries in — in the — the pariah states — the other four and, certainly, Russia.
So we’ve already been taking those steps.
There — there’ll be an ongoing review at the State Department. That process should see itself out — itself through. And that’s where the President thinks it should be.
Q On the Ukrainian package that the President is proposing, Congress is now, you know, working on such a package. We heard from Mitch McConnell on the Hill a short time ago saying the Republicans don’t want, in his words, “extraneous items to be included.” Does the White House believe that the Afghanistan Advancement Act should be included in there — in there, Ukraine refugee aid, oligarch sanctions? I’ll start with Afghanistan Act.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think as you’re touching on here, but just to get others up to speed on where it stands, the House proposal that they’re expected to introduce is about $40 billion, which is larger than the package that we had proposed — about $7 billion over our initial request.
So, while it has $3.4 billion more for security and humanitarian assistance, it doesn’t — it’s not expected to include some items, including, as you touched on, providing a pathway to permanent status for African refugees — something we certainly support, right?
Q So do you believe that that should be included in this package?
MS. PSAKI: There’ll be a negotiation and a discussion in Congress. I’m not going to prejudge that. We’ve supported that being included. But obviously, there’s an urgency to getting this funding done, given we have nine more days until we run out of money.
Q Okay. I guess the question is: If — if this is to delay your ability to accomplish this within nine days, is the President — would he be okay with that being not included in the final package?
MS. PSAKI: If what were to delay?
Q If this were to delay the nine days, you said, until money runs out. If you were not to include the Afghan aid, for example, the President would be okay with that being out, is what you’re saying?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, this hasn’t even been formally introduced by the House. We have supported that. But the President —
MS. PSAKI: — has been — has been very clear — it’s not being discussed upstairs, it’s — well, being discussed with Speaker Pelosi when she comes. Sure. But the President has been clear we need to get this funding and security assistance funding so that we can continue to provide assistance to the Ukrainians.
Q Let me ask one last question, because I asked the President earlier and he said it was being weighed — this was as it related to dropping the China tariffs right now —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — to help the — to help the domestic economy here. Is the President sensitive that doing that could actually — would be a political liability if it may help Americans in the near term, in terms of their pocketbook, their costs?
MS. PSAKI: A political — so — say that one —
Q Does the President have concerns that, basically, lifting tariffs on China — which could be used as a battering ram by political opponents saying you’re being soft on China — would be a political challenge for him, even if it would help Americans, in terms of their pocketbook issues in the near term, (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we already — we already announced some tariffs that we were lifting back in March. So it’s been an ongoing review. And we expect to do more. And his —
Q But he said he’s weighing new ones, so (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: He’s weighing new ones. Yes. Because it’s an ongoing process, and there are more that are still in place. And we didn’t feel that the ones that were in place when the President took office were all advantageous and were doing what they needed to do to make clear what our positions were on China’s approach to investment and economic engagement, which we’ve obviously been clear about our issues with.
And we have — but we are — we are continuing to review where it would be advantageous to take steps that would help, you know, reduce wages — or increase wages and help certain industries that are — that are impacted by these tariffs in a way that — that we don’t feel is effective.
So, there will be more and he’s continuing to weigh them. But Ambassador Tai is — is leading that effort.
Q Is Jill Biden going to be in the Situation Room for that meeting, given her experience?
MS. PSAKI: Dr. Biden? I don’t know that she will be in the meeting. But the President — she and the President obviously had a number of conversations since she returned. She — he was talking just this morning about how proud he was of her trip and how grateful he was that she traveled there.
Go ahead. Go ahead, Jeff.
Q Jen, just to follow up on the tariffs: Do you have a sense of the timeframe for when the next round or when the next decision on lifting tariffs could come?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a prediction of that. What we’re looking at is how to evaluate what’s working for American workers, industry, farmers, and consumers and change what is not.
I mean, I expect we’ll have more to say in the coming weeks, but I don’t have an assessment for you on how expensive that will be or how many decisions about tariffs there will be at that point in time. But we expect we’ll have more to say in the coming weeks.
Q Elon Musk today said that he would reverse the decision to have Twitter — that Twitter made to ban President Trump. I’m wondering if the White House has a reaction to that and how that would impact this White House’s dealing with misinformation.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say it’s the decision by a private sector company to make on who will or will not be allowed on their platforms.
What I will say, broadly speaking, is that our effort is to, of course, make sure that freedom of speech is protected across the country but that, also, these platforms are not used for format — forums for disinformation.
And we have seen a history of that not just on Twitter but also on Facebook. The President believes there’s more that needs to be done in reforming Section 230. And there’s a lot of bipartisan interest in that, so this may be a reminder of the urgency of doing that.
Q And lastly, the United States is about to hit a grim milestone of a million COVID-related deaths. How does the President plan to commemorate this? And looking back at the last two years, why has that number gotten so high in this country?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re facing — we’ve been battling a historic pandemic, Jeff, I think. And while we have more than 75 percent of the country vaccinated, which is a significant number, we still know that far too many people are — have not been vaccinated, have not taken the maximum protections, even if they’re vaccinated and not yet boosted, to massively reduce their likelihood of hospitalization and death.
It is still incumbent upon us and we are still working every day on increasing the number of vac- — people vaccinated, the number of people boosted, and expanding the protections. In terms of how we’re going to mark that moment, the President will certainly be marking that day. I expect we’ll have more to say soon. We look at the CDC data and the Johns Hopkins data.
I know different news organizations evaluate it differently. But in terms of when we will mark it, it will be aligned with when that data hits the number.
Q Thanks, Jen. Last November, President Biden asked the Federal Trade Commission to look into whether oil and gas companies were playing a role in keeping gas prices high. Has he gotten the results of that investigation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, they’re independent, so they would make any announcements about any intention to take steps on their own — of their own accord, out publicly to all of you. And obviously, they have not done that.
But what we can certainly see and watch, Kaitlan, even without any announcement or indication by the FTC, is, as we see the price of oil — barrels of oil come down, the price of gas should also come down at the pump. And we haven’t always seen that trend take place. And that is something we are also closely watching and certainly the FTC would be watching as well.
Q Is it the White House’s understanding that they’re actually investigating that?
MS. PSAKI: Again, you’d have to speak to them. They’re independent. The President sent a letter. He’s spoken about this a number of times publicly, but they would speak to any intention of investigating, given they’re independent.
Q And what’s the White House’s expectation for the inflation report that is expected to come out this week?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a prediction. I know I sometimes do, but I don’t have a prediction on it at this moment from here.
Obviously, once it comes out, I expect we’ll have more to say. And our focus continues to be on taking steps to lower costs. And obviously, the President addressed this morning and outlined this morning what his plan is to do exactly that.
Go ahead. Oh, go ahead.
Q Last question on Ukraine.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q The President’s comment last night that he’s worried Putin does not have a way out of this that he can see — what does he believe Putin’s goal is right now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what the President was referring to is the fact that this has not gone as President Putin planned and that — while he had predicted in a very public speech we all talked about at the time in February that he would not only subsume Ukraine and to make that a part of Russia, he would be marching through the streets and maybe he’d do more from there. And that obviously hasn’t happened.
The Ukrainians won the battle of Kyiv. He obviously — he also thought that NATO would be divided, that the West would be divided — that has not happened. And he certainly did not predict he would be facing the level of crippling sanctions enforced by all Western countries together that he is today.
So, the point he was making is that, you know, we have to be cleareyed about the fact that this war is not over, that they are — he still has ambitions and he is still fighting the war. And we’ve seen that on the ground every day. But even as the Ukrainians have had successes, as Director Haines said today, this is going to be a long war and we need to prepare ourselves for that.
Q Jen, on Monday, you tweeted out that the President strongly believes in the right to protest, that such protests should never include violence, threats, or vandalism. And you specifically mentioned the ability of judges to be able to do their jobs.
Is the administration worried that abortion rights protests may turn violent? And was there any specific group of protesters that that tweet was geared towards?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, to be very clear, the protests outside of judges’ homes have not turned violent. And I don’t think we need to make a prediction of that from here. Just because people are passionate, it does not mean they’re violent. And I think that’s probably why you’re asking the question, Ashley.
But I think it is important to — the President felt it was important for us to be clear that as people’s passions are high, as people are fearful about their own healthcare, that should never resort to violence, it should never resort to vandalism. And we have seen some elements of that — vandalism. And he wanted to be clear that his position was to call for peaceful protests.
Q And on a similar theme, Senator Collins called the police over the weekend after someone wrote a non-threatening abortion rights message in sidewalk chalk in front of her house in Maine. I was just curious, sort of, what you made of that — of her response.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any specific comment on her response, other than to say that: Even as passions are high, even as people are fearful, even as people are scared and frustrated, which is understandable, we should not — no one should resort to violence, of course, nor threats, nor intimidation, nor vandalism, and that those are not effective means.
Q Do you consider sidewalk chalk vandalism?
MS. PSAKI: I’ll let others define that. But there are lots of ways to peaceful protest.
What’s also important to note here is what I would call the hypocrisy of the silence on the other side when there have been intimidation, protests outside of the homes of school board members, the Michigan Secretary of State. There have been countless women who have dealt with and navigated through threats made as they’re seeking repro- — reproductive healthcare, which, by the way, has been legal for 50 years. And there has been no outcry about that.
There has been outcry about — about protests that have been peaceful outside of judges’ homes, which, again, you know, have been peaceful and have not been violent. And the President has been clear about his view on them.
Q Thank you. I wanted to ask you about another aspect of what the President might call the “Ultra-MAGA Agenda,” which is election denial. More than 140 House and Senate Republicans voted against certifying his victory in January 2021. There are many more candidates running for seats in this election that have pledged that they would have done that and may do the same in the future.
The President’s ramping up his rhetoric and going after Republicans on economic policies, tax policies. Is he planning to go to voters and tell them that their vote this November could impact their ability to have their vote counted two Novembers hence? Or is he not concerned that a Republican House would refuse to certify a Democratic victory in 2024?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the way you can expect — without getting into the politics of it, which I have to be careful of from here — the President to talk about voting and voting rights is about his view and belief that we should have people elected across the country stand up for protecting and expanding access, and not questioning and making it more difficult or oppressing people’s right to exercise their right to vote.
Q Just a follow-up. It seems more and more that a tenet of the Republican agenda is to denigrate him as illegitimate or — or worse. Is — is it hard for him to hear these things? What’s his reaction every day to hearing that there are people referring to his administration as “the regime” and talking about him as if he’s a dictator? Is — is he bothered by that, or does he just see it as politics as usual these days?
MS. PSAKI: I haven’t heard that one as much. But I would say that you heard the President — Ed asked him earlier today about Senator Scott’s comments about him. And, you know, the President’s response was, “[He] has a problem.”
And his view of a lot of these comments is that people are freaking out in some capacity. Because if you look at Senator Scott, his — his plan that is going to raise taxes on 75 million Americans, even peo- — some people in his own party — not enough, but some people in his own party are backing away from.
So, you know, I don’t think he spends a lot of time worried about people’s angry tweets or — or angry verbal, you know, missives. He spends time on laying out the contrast of what he’s going to present with what their plans are.
Q Thanks, Jen. Briefly, to follow up on the questions about gas prices —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Can you give us a little more specifics about any new policies the administration might be considering to address high gas prices? And how seriously is the administration considering calling for a suspension of the federal gas tax?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, on the federal gas tax, that is an option on the table. There — it would lower gas, I think, about — you can check me on this; I think you know the answer — about 18 cents, I believe. And certainly, that’s something that remains on the table.
There are a lot of ideas in Congress about steps that can be taken to lower gas prices even temporarily or provide some relief to Americans, so we’re in a constant discussion about that.
He does continue to view the challenge as one being about ensuring there is supply in the marketplace. And obviously, he’s taken the steps he took with the — this historic release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. We’ll continue to talk with big global producers about what steps we can take. And he’s going to continue to look at steps we can take to provide relief to Americans.
I would say the other piece that’s very much on his mind is that when we look at inflation and what the impact of inflation is on Americans, we know that it has driven, at this point, 60 to 70 percent — depending on the data you’re looking at — by energy prices.
And so, in addition to addressing that, he wants to think about how to bring down costs for Americans in a range of ways.
And, you know, a couple of weeks ago, he announced fixes to the “family glitch” in the Affordable Care Act. He’s announced a pause on the repayment of student loans.
And if you’re a family at home balan- — you know, trying to figure out how you’re going to pay bills, you’re looking at what your costs are incoming, and he is going to take every step he can to provide relief as people need it in this moment, and he certainly recognizes that.
Q And speaking of inflation, is he concerned at all that widespread loan forgiveness would actually increase inflation and further exacerbate it by pumping money into the economy (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: I know some economists — and I don’t have an official assessment from here — but I would say that Jared Bernstein, who is one of our economists, has spoken to this. And he’s talked about — more about the impact of pausing federal loan repayments and the fact that, in his view — and you can quote him directly — it would be something like 0.001 percent, which, in his view, the impact of that — the impact of giving people relief who need relief, who are stressed and can’t repay these loans right now as they’re having higher costs in other areas, outweighs that impact.
But again, I don’t have a projection here on specifically what the inflationary impact would be.
Q Just two things up. Can you offer any further details on what the Women’s Health Policy Council has in mind on executive orders for abortion rights, since you all seem to (inaudible) that issue?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, we’ve talked about — it may not all be executive orders. I mean, there’s — a lot of this is ensuring that we have increased access and funding so that women who are living in the states, if Roe were to be overturned, would be able to have expanded access and capabilities. And some of that could be from the Department of Justice, obviously, which they would make final decisions about.
We’ve said that we weren’t going to preview until there’s a final opinion because we’re still speaking about a potential opinion that has not yet been released. But what I would point you to is what we did around S.B. 8 and the law in Texas, which was to take steps, including by creating new grants to increase funding, given the fact that we know that 75 percent of women who seek an abortion are under 200 percent of the poverty level. So increase funding to ensure we’re making it more — you know, making sure that funding is available to people.
HHS has also started a number of programs with the exact same objective intended to protect patients and providers in response to the law.
And the Department of Justice has also issued statements in response to S.B. 8 that reaffirm their commitment to using existing federal law to protect the safety of patients seeking access to reproductive health services.
So what we’re looking at and what we’re trying to address is our assessment and understanding of what the impact will be that 13 states have trigger laws, 26 states have indicated that they could overturn or ban or take immediate action should this — should this be the final opinion. And we know who is most — would be most impacted.
So, I don’t have anything to preview at this point. As we said, we wouldn’t before there’s a final opinion. But those are the factors we’re looking at.
Q And just one more question. Where does the White House stand on whether the DOJ Antitrust Chief, Jonathan Kanter, should be recused from Google cases?
MS. PSAKI: I will check and see if we have a position on that or if it’s something we’d punt to the Department of Justice.
Q With the COVID funding now separated from the Ukraine funding, what is the path for the COVID funds to pass? And also, should Americans start preparing for shortages of tests or vaccines or treatments this fall?
MS. PSAKI: Well, on the second part of your question, I think we don’t want to sugarcoat it that we need more money. We don’t have a plan B here. We will use the few funds we have remaining to continue getting tests, treatments, and vaccines out to Americans for as long as we can.
And we’re going to continue to work the phones, hold briefings, and make our case publicly and privately with lawmakers, imploring Congress to act immediately after our long — after — to help us on our long-overdue COVID needs.
I will say that we are having conversations at a bipartisan level with a bi- — bicameral about what the impact will be, which the President said in a statement yesterday, “More Americans will die needlessly.”
And why? Because we’re going to exhaust our treatment supply, we’ll lose out to other countries on promising new treatments, we’ll lose our place in line for America to order new COVID vaccines, we’ll be unable to maintain our supply of COVID tests, and our effort to get — help lower-income countries get COVID vaccines into arms will stall, which is especially relevant given the international summit we’re hosting.
So, we will use the remaining funds we have to kind of spread it as we can, but we need more money in order to continue to effectively run the programs we’ve been running to date.
Q If it takes a vote on Title 42, would the President be okay with a vote happening to try to block Title 42 going away in order to get a vote on the COVID funds?
MS. PSAKI: I know there’s a lot of talk on this out there, and so I understand why you’re asking. But right now, there’s a lot of steps that would need to happen before that came to the President’s desk.
I would say our view — or his view continues to be that the lifting of Title 42 is a decision made by the CDC. It was the authority given to them by Congress. That should not be holding up funding that’s necessary to save the lives of Americans.
But again, those are ongoing discussions in Congress at this point.
Q Thank you, Jen. I have two questions: oil and inflation. Oil first. The President referred to the Strategic Reserve, and then there’s this — we talked about that again — but the rallying our allies to release the additional 60 million barrels of oil from different countries.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q How successful has he been on this, on this very — convincing allies to release more oil?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say it’s the largest historic release ever by the global community, so I would say that’s pretty successful.
In terms of the status of when the releases would happen, we said at the beginning that it would be over the course of time. What we’re trying to do is fill the needs for the next several months until a number of oil companies have said they would be able to pump more.
Q Have you been — have you had commitment on that? I mean —
MS. PSAKI: We announced commitments just a few weeks ago.
Q On countries?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q From countries. I’ll go back in my notes then.
As for inflation, I just want to check something with you. Because as you know, the eight-foot two-by-four goes to between $6 and $7 each these days. Some construction is — construction is getting more and more costly. I was reading a report from Habitat for Humanity saying 30,000 houses are $30,000 more expensive because of the cost of the — of material.
As you know, the tariff on Canadian softwood is still over 11 percent. Is that a way to get rid of part of the inflation by getting rid of these tariffs — which, actually, Canadian softwood is secure, strong, you know, easily accessible?
MS. PSAKI: You love — you love some good Canadian lumber.
I don’t have anything to predict in terms of tariffs on Canadian lumber. I will say that, obviously, taking steps not just to address the supply chain but to manufacture more at home, here in the United States, is part of the President’s longer-term plan to address these increasing costs over the long term.
Q Thank you so much. Would you have a comment on the presidential election in the Philippines?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. On the presidential election in the Philippines — I believe I have something in here. There’s a lot happening today. If not, we will get you something right after the briefing because I believe we may have something on that. So why don’t we venture to do that.
Q And also, I had one on Afghanistan as well.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q There were, like, dozens of women today in Kabul protesting the latest restriction, which is that they now must fully cover their faces and bodies in public. And this is just the latest in a series of restrictions.
Is the administration surprised that this is all happening? And what is the administration doing to assist women and girls in Afghanistan?
MS. PSAKI: Well, on the — let me just get — let me give you a comment on the Philippines first, because I found it, and then I’ll get to your Afghanistan question.
So we are — this is not very exciting, I will just preface for you — but we are monitoring election results. We look forward to renewing our partnership and to working with the next administration on key priorities, including strengthening our alliance; advancing a free, open Indo-Pacific; and promoting human rights.
We understand that vote tabulation is well underway and that candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr. stands in the lead, but we’re going to wait for the official call before we have a more formal comment.
In terms of Afghan women in the street, I would say: One, even as the President made the choice to pull our troops out of Afghanistan after a 20-year failed war that cost thousands of American lives and spent billions of dollars of American taxpayer dollars, we still have committed to be supporters — humanitarian supporters through a range of NGOs and other organizations of the amazing courage of Afghan women and girls.
And does it surprise us that they’re protesting in the streets? No. These are women who have been courageously standing up against oppression, against the Taliban for decades. And, you know, we will continue to be supporters, through any means possible, of their efforts and their bravery and courage they’re showing today.
Q Thanks, Jen. Nancy asked you a little bit about the substance of some potential abortion EOs. But I want to ask you about something Majority Leader Schumer said just a little while ago —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — to reporters on the Hill. He said that President Biden is meeting with what he said was a group of people today to discuss possible executive action on abortion. Is there such a meeting on the President’s schedule today?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that one of the steps we’ve said we’ve been taking all along is having the Gender Policy Council, our Counsel’s Office, and the Department of Health and Human Services come up with options and proposals for what we would do were this opinion issued to be final or a version of it to be final.
So those are ongoing internal meetings.
Q So can I ask who he’s meeting with today?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t — I’m not aware of a meeting today but these are ongoing meetings, including with the President, that have been happening for the last several days.
Q And on the potential abortion EOs, is that something — in terms of the timetable, is it safe to assume that that’s something that you wouldn’t do until after you get the Supreme Court ruling or maybe sooner, given the things that have already happened and (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve been clear from the beginning that we are not going to announce specific steps until we have a final opinion.
Q Also on abortion, Jen, we’ve seen the President speak out against states that had passed laws that he disagreed with.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Voting rights especially. But last year, he supported calls for Major League Baseball to move the All-Star Game out of Georgia because of their voting laws. Would the President support private businesses pulling out of states that are passing or will pass restrictive abortion laws?
MS. PSAKI: I haven’t had that discussion with the President, so I don’t have anything to comment on at this point.
Yeah, go ahead.
Q Yeah. So — thanks, Jen. So the President said today that inflation is his top domestic priority.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Has that replaced climate change, then, for this administration as the top priority?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say first that inflation and the rise in cost for people across the country has long been the top issue for peo- — for — in every poll we’ve seen and certainly has been the number one issue for the President for some time.
When he came into office, he said that his agenda was going to focus on four major priorities. That includes addressing the climate crisis, of course, and he will continue to do that.
But we are certainly aware that right now, in this moment, that inflation and reducing costs is what is most on the minds of Americans.
Q So the President was also asked if he took responsibility for any of his policies related to inflation — not just gas prices, but inflation. When he took office, inflation was 2.5 percent year over year. It’s now 8.5 percent. The invasion didn’t happen until about one year into his term. So why doesn’t the President take any responsibility?
MS. PSAKI: I think the President said today that he’s President and that we control all three — obviously Congress, the House and Senate as well.
What is also true is that the pandemic was going on before he took office; that fighting this historic pandemic — which has been front and center for his agenda, we know, and every economist will tell you this — has been the major driver of inflation over the past year-plus and we’ve continued to fight the pandemic since then.
We’ve also heard Chairman Powell, Secretary Yellen, and others convey — and we’ve seen this in nearly every element of data we’ve seen on inflation since Pu- — President Putin invaded Ukraine — that energy prices account for the majority of inflationary increases over the past several weeks since the war began.
So, you don’t have to take my word for it; that’s what economists and data have told us.
What our focus is on — and you heard the President say this today — is not whether inflation is or isn’t an issue. We all agree it’s an issue. What our plan is and what the President’s plan is to address costs and bring down costs is what he outlined this morning. It’s a multi-step plan.
What are we seeing on the other side? We’re seeing the plan proposed by Chairman Scott, which would instead raise costs on the American people and sunset or end — whatever you want to call it — Medicare and Social Security.
Q But last week, Chairman Powell did say that partly what the Fed did, as well as spending from Congress, is the reason that we’re in this high inflation environment.
MS. PSAKI: He also talked about energy pri- — the invasion and the impact on energy prices, did he not?
Q He did.
MS. PSAKI: Well, that seems like an important part of context, doesn’t it?
Q But it wasn’t until one year into the presidency that the invasion happened.
MS. PSAKI: And you’re asking me about recent inflationary data, which we know 60 to 70 percent of is because of energy prices, which even Chairman Powell quoted and said was because of the invasion of Ukraine. Right? Okay.
Go ahead, April.
Q Jen, a couple of questions — one on abortion, following up on these meetings. Has the President in recent weeks been more deliberate in his conversations as to who he’s talking with about the issue of abortion and this leaked draft has come — that came out on the opinion — possible opinion?
MS. PSAKI: When you say “more deliberate,” do you mean have we been having more conversations? Or tell me more about what you mean.
Q (Inaudible) the President of the United States been more deliberate in who he’s talking with — abortion advocates or pro-lifers, pro-choicers? Has he been talking to — more deliberate in talking to Schumer? Has he been more deliberate in his conversations about abortion since this leak?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, but so has the entire administration. And he has asked the Gender Policy Council, the Department of Health and Human Services, his Counsel’s Office to put together a plan and proposal, which he’s been engaged in meetings about, to discuss what we should prepare to do to protect women’s basic fundamental rights that have been the law of the land for 50 years.
I think there’s no question, not just for Americans who care deeply about this but for the President as well, that this leaked opinion, whether it’s final or not — which we know the Supreme Court has said it’s not and they need to issue a final one at the appropriate time — has raised the alarm bells about what is at risk here, even though we have seen prior to this, you know, a number — 288 Republicans sign on to the amicus brief on the Mississippi case.
So, it’s not that the effort to overturn Roe v. Wade is new; that has been ongoing for decades. But certainly, this leaked draft raised the concern, raised the alarms, and certainly has heightened our focus on preparing what options are possible.
Q Right, since 1973. You know, there’s been a stronger fight since all this happened. But now you have people like Elizabeth Warren and Senator Schumer who are pushing this hard. Has he been in conversations with both of them, and is he planning on talking to them before tomorrow?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve been in touch with a range of senators. We don’t read out those conversations as it relates to him from here.
Q (Inaudible) from the President.
MS. PSAKI: I understand. We don’t read them out per his ask. So, he has a range of conversations. It’s rare that I’m in the Oval Office and he doesn’t pick up the call — pick up the phone and call a member of Congress. So, I can assure you he is in touch with a range of members. And, obviously, this is front and center on their minds as are other issues.
But certainly we will continue to assess directly with Congress.
(Cross-talk by reporters.)
Q Wait a minute. I’m not finished. Please!
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, April.
Q All right, so the next question on inflation. The President has drilled down and administration officials have drilled down on issues of price gouging — going back to Kaitlan’s question, but this is more on a broader scale.
The Agriculture Secretary came here a few months ago —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — talking about price gouging.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q He called out Tyson Foods —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — people who are profiting.
MS. PSAKI: Record profits yesterday.
Q Right. What’s hap- — across the board, you have gas companies that are profiting. You have food companies that are profiting. Consumers are having a hard time dealing with what’s at the grocery store and at the pump.
Is the President going to start putting more of a focus on this profiteering or price-gouging issue? Because you’re seeing these numbers from Tyson, you’re hearing about what’s happening at the pump. And he even talked about — he asked local gas stations to look at the prices and see if they could make a cut themselves. Is there going to be an extra focus or a more concerted focus on this issue of price gouging?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah — you heard the President talk about it this morning. And tomorrow, he’s going to be traveling to Illinois where he’s going to be talking about how we need to continue to help small farmers on agriculture.
So, we have talked about this, we have elevated it, and we want to make sure people across the country understand that some of these conglomerates — you mentioned the meat industry, but also oil and gas industry — should not be raising prices on consumers while they are making record profits.
Okay, thank — let me — let me do Lynn Sweet because I have a soft spot for her.
Lynn Sweet, go ahead. Lynn Sweet. Lynn Sweet, let’s hear it. Lynn Sweet is going to ask a question.
Q Thank you. And this relates to his visit to Kankakee. And — (laughs) —
MS. PSAKI: Lynn, thank you. I should have found a friend on the pronunciation. I practiced it. I didn’t get it right. I should have seen you here.
Q Okay, so on his visit to Kankakee and Chicago, I have noticed, as others have, that — the language that you used today and a bit in recent days on calling this “Putin’s price hike” and “Ultra-MAGA.” I’m curious: When you go to the IBEW to talk about supporting the new jobs, infrastructure, energy issues, and the record on those issues, is this effective language to use in that kind of audience? Because when you go to Kankakee, it’s really your event. And it’s clear you don’t have to worry about an audience reacting one way or the other. Could you speak to that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think when he goes — he’s visiting a family farm in Kankakee. How did I do there? Okay. And so, when he’s there, he’s really going to talk about the role of American farmers and the amazing agricultural sector we have in this country and the role that all Americans are playing in standing up for democracy and against autocracy.
We think of it often as weapons — and obviously he went to the Javelin plant last week — but it’s also about providing American food that’s produced here in this country and what can we do more to produce more. So that’s what those remarks will be more about.
I have not yet looked at the remarks he will give at the IBEW tomorrow afternoon, but I can tell you you will — whether it’s tomorrow or in days and weeks ahead, people — you will all continue to hear him talk more about his concern about Ultra-MAGA Republicans and their agenda. And, of course, this is not the last you’ve heard from us about Chairman Scott’s tax plan that will raise taxes.
Okay, thanks, everyone.
3:30 P.M. EDT