Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre En Route Kankakee, Il
11:51 A.M. EDT
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hey, guys.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hello. Hello. Good morning. Okay. Just two things for you at the top. And I’ll try and speak as loud as I can.
All right. Good morning. Thanks for joining us for President Biden’s trip to Illinois. As you know, our first stop is to Kankakee, where the President will visit O’Connor Farms, a family farm owned by Jeff and Gina O’Connor. The farm is 800 acres and grows wheat, corn, and soybeans.
The O’Connors use double cropping of wheat and soybeans on their farm, which, for those unfamiliar, means harvesting two crops from the same field in a given year. They are currently growing wheat that we will be — that will be harvested in July and then will double crop with soybeans on those same acres. They al- — they are also in the process of planting corn on their other acres.
President Biden will be joined by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. The President will highlight the impact of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine on our domestic and global food supply and the war’s contribution to the rise in food prices at home and abroad.
Fighting inflation and lowering costs for Americans is the President’s top priority, and he will deliver remarks on the effect of Putin’s price hike on the cost of food and energy. He will describe his administration’s action to support farmers and food processors — (clears throat) — excuse me — lower their cost and lower prices for families.
Later in the day, the President will address the IBEW’s — International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers — 40th Convention, where he will discuss his support for union jobs in the infrastructure and energy industries; increasing the number of countries eligible for double cropping insurance so that we can boost food production; increasing technical assistance for precision agriculture, allowing farmers to use less fertilizer without reducing yields; and doubling our investment for domestic fertilizer production to $500 million.
Later in the day, the President will address the IBEW’s 40th Convention where he will discuss his support for union jobs in the infrastructure and energy industries.
Throughout the day, the President will be joined by Governor J. B. Pritzker; Congresswoman Robin Kelly — we’ll be in her district; and one — of course, many IBEW labor leaders at their convention. And we’ll be in her district at the farm, just to be clear there.
One last thing I just want to note is that, yesterday, the Senate confirmed Lisa Cook to be the first Black woman to ever serve on the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve. Not only does Dr. Cook make history with this confirmation, but she is eminently qualified for this position at a critical moment of our economic process.
We call on the Senate to swiftly confirm Jerome Powell and Philip Jefferson this week as well.
With that, Zeke, you want to kick us off?
Q Thanks, Karine. Does the White House, does the President have any response to the killing of Al Jazeera journalist and American citizen Shireen Abu Akleh?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yes.
Q And will that affect the President’s trip — planned trip to Israel next month?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, we strongly condemn the killing of Al Jazeera journalist and American citizen Shireen Abu Akleh in Jenin today, and we extend our deepest condolences to her family. We call for a thorough investigation to determine the circumstances of her death. Investigating attacks on independent media and prosecuting those responsible are of paramount importance.
We will continue to promote media freedom and protect journalists’ ability to do their jobs without fear of violence, threats to their lives or safety, or unjust detention.
I don’t have anything else to preview about his trip.
Q And does the President plan to make any calls to Israeli officials about this or her family, or anything of that sort?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — I’m happy to check, but I don’t have anything right now to preview on any calls that he’ll be making.
Q Can I ask a question about the ASEAN Summit that’s coming up? Can you give me a broad sense of what the President hopes to achieve from that, please?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, today, at around two o’clock — I think 2:45 — we’ll have a preview call. We’ll — we’ll have the full schedule and also, clearly, take questions from your colleagues since you guys are here with us heading to Illinois.
We’ll have more on deliverables tomorrow, so we’ll probably do a backgrounder on that — a preview call on that. But you can expect to see us deepen our longstanding cooperation by investing in our countries and driving inclusive prosperity in this critical region.
At the end of last year, President Biden announced $102 million in new initiatives to expand our engagement with ASEAN on COVID-19 recovery and health security, fighting the climate crisis, stimulating broad-based economic growth, and deepening people-to-people ties. We will keep building on this.
And, you know, I would push back on any of the characterizations that are out there that the U.S. hasn’t done much in the region since TPP, which never went into effect in the first place.
We have long, strong — we have strong trade and investment relationships in the region; for example, the ASEAN countries — collectively, the United States’ fourth-largest goods trading partner.
We saw U.S. exports of goods to the Asia-Pacific increase in 2021 by 25 percent from 2020, U.S. imports increase in 2021 by 19 percent from 2020. We’ve seen also — we’ve also seen increased foreign direct investment between the U.S. and the Asia-Pacific.
And as you all know, we’ve also been developing an Indo-Pacific Economic Framework to deepen our economic presence in the region. We’ll have more to say on this soon and are encouraged to see the int- — the interests of partners in the region.
Q Just on ASEAN, can I ask you about — you talked about trade and economic issues. What about human rights? How does that fit into the ASEAN (inaudible)?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, that is something that clearly we — we are monitoring, and that is — it’s something that’s important to this administration.
Clearly, that is — you know, it’s — it is something that, when you think about Cambodia, that’s the question that we tend to get.
You know, the President and our administration has been clear about human rights concern and promoting human rights in Cambodia, just as an example.
The President will, of course, not hold back from expressing his views and his priorities to promote human rights in that region.
The summit is a — is a U.S.-ASEAN Summit, and Cambodia is the chair of the ASEAN, as you know. So, the leaders — so the leaders of that — of that summit as well — as well — the ASEAN General — Secretary General were invited; the different countries: Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
And so, it’s — a nonpolitical represent- — representative of Burma was invited to the summit in accordance of ASEAN’s 2021 decision to restrict Burma’s participation in high-level ASEAN meetings due to the military regime’s failure to implement the ASEAN five-point consensus.
We understand that Burma has declined that option, but that is something that, clearly, we will — the President will (inaudible).
Q Karine, have you or the Pre- — have you seen or has the President seen the situation with the women’s team at the Delaware State University, where they got pulled over in Georgia? They claimed they were subject to an unfair and unlawful search looking for drugs and whatnot. Do you know about that? Does he know about that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I actually don’t. This is the first I’m hearing of that. I’m happy to look into that and get back to you, but I actually don’t — have not heard that one.
Q I wanted to see if you guys have a quick comment on the arrest of the Catholic cardinal in Hong Kong and the other activists there. Did you have anything on that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yes, I do. Give me one second.
So, freedom of expression are critical to prosperous and secure societies. We call on PC- — PRC and Hong Kong authorities to cease targeting Hong Kong’s advocates and to immediately release who have been unjustly detained and charged, like the Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun and others arrested today.
Q Karine, Senator Joe Manchin just said that he would be opposing the legislation today on the abortion vote. What message does it send to the country and to the nine justices that you’re going to have a bipartisan majority voting against this legislation?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So — and you’re talking about the Women’s Health Protection Act?
So, we put a statement of administration policy out, and so this is the message that we have. And, clearly, the urgency to protect women’s health, their fundamental right to control their reproductive choices, and the freedom of all people to build their own future has never been greater.
The position of the Biden administration has been clear since day one: We will defend women’s constitutional rights recognized in Roe v. Wade — rights that have been under attack for decades and are under unprecedented threat now despite strong support from the American people.
It is evident that the constitutional rights protected for nearly 50 years, as Roe v. Wade, are now in severe jeopardy. It is imperative for Congress to act to adap- — to adopt statutory protections for women’s access to healthcare services and productive [reproductive] choices — productive [reproductive] choice, regardless of where they live.
Congress must further act to protect healthcare providers’ ability to provide such critical services free from unwarranted, inappropriate restrictions, and to eliminate unjustified burdens of commerce that prevent women and their families from participating fully and equally in the economic and social life of the — social life of the United States.
The protec- — the protections that Women’s Health Protection Act would ensure are essential to the health, safety, and progress of our nation. So that is what we put out there in support of that.
Q Karine, just on inflation, as we’re about to land. I know the new numbers today show that inflation slowed somewhat, but core inflation actually jumped up about 0.6 percent. Are you guys concerned that even though prices may start trending down that, at the root of it all, inflation is still a real problem?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, you know, we’re been clear-eyed in talking about the challenges driving inflation around the globe. As the President said yesterday, the first cause was the pandemic — the bottlenecks that has caused around — that has caused around the globe. And there’s no doubt that Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has also led to high — higher commodity prices and pain for Americans at the pump.
But we know prices are too high on too many Am- — things for — on too many things for Amer- — working Americans.
That’s why the President is using every tool we have to drive down the costs. That includes historic release of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, announcement this week on lowering the prices of Internet access of millions of Americans, and the President’s travel today to Illinois to speak with farmers about how we can do to lower their costs and help them produce more. And you’ll hear more about that from him later today.
Q So, you know, we’re starting to see, on the back of the report today, private market forecasts that are suggesting that we won’t see a significant deceleration of inflation until early next year, including all of the steps you’re taking, including the predicted path of Fed policy. Is that consistent with your estimates at this point?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, you know — I mean, I guess, more top- — topically, I would say that: You know, it’s heartening that the annual inflation cooled in April, which is what we saw. But as the President said yesterday, inflation is unacceptably high and bringing down prices is his top priority. That’s going to be our main focus.
I leave the prediction to the Fed — Federal Reserve and other experts, but his plan is focused on lowering the cost that families face and reducing the federal — the federal deficit. And so, that’s going to be — that’s going to be our focus for moving forward.
Q The President’s executive order on cryptocurrency a few months ago —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q — set out some research. Agencies were going to spend a few months looking at it, come back with proposals. That market is in significant movement right now. Bitcoin has lost something like more than half its value. So I guess the question is: Should regulators move quicker in light of the, you know, recent movement on crypto now that there are signs of, you know, systemic problems or at least a sharp plunge in the sector?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. So, just like the stock market, as you know, we don’t judge the economy by the daily movement of crypto.
But as you know, all — as well, crypto is a highly volatile asset. It’s why the President signed an EO outlining the first ever whole-of-government approach to addressing the risks and opportunities of digital assets. Reviews of digital assets, including crypto, is underway across agencies.
But I don’t have anything right now to preview, but that is something that we’re looking at that’s being reviewed.
Q You’re not planning on — for speeding it up or changing course, given the movements we’ve seen in the last couple of —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I don’t — I mean, I just don’t have anything more than what I just stated.
Q Thank you. Can I ask — on baby formula, there’s been severe shortages throughout much of the country over many weeks and months, but particularly the last couple of weeks. What is the administration doing? What can you do?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, that’s something certainly we’ve been tracking. Ensuring that — so ensuring that infant form- — formula is safe and available for families across the country is a top priority to the White House and this administration.
We know that Abbott’s voluntary recall of infant formula products has led to some Americans being unable to access infant formula and other critical medical food supply. This is an urgent issue that the FDA, as you all know, and the White House is working 24/7 to address. They are committed to pulling every lever and are ready to making progress and getting more supply onto the market.
In fact, in April, sales were about 10 percent greater than in March. Right now, consumers should be able to find general powdered infant formulas in stores, but we are focused on doing everything we can to ensure formula is more easily available.
Just a couple of things I’ll read out really quickly — what FDA is doing. They’re working closely with industry to maximize their production capabilities by opening new lines for products in high demand, expediting FDA reviews to mo- — to more efficiently get supply out, and expanding hours of operation for manufacturers; expediting the importance [importation] of products produced aboard [abroad]; calling on retailer groups to consider placing purchase limits on some products to avoid the possibility of hoarding that could further constraint the market.
And anyone who needs certain speci- — specific and metabolic formulas should consult their healthcare providers for guidance and alternatives to their current formula.
I can take one right now.
Q Karine —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q — who’s running point on the formula issue at the White House? You mentioned the White House is involved.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, I — at the White House, I don’t — I don’t know. I can find out for you and get you a person who’s running point. But I don’t have a (inaudible).
Q You got time for one on Putin?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q Just on the DNI’s testimony. She said Putin might take drastic means, escalatory optio- — military options and might view losing as an existential threat. How does that assessment change how you guys are dealing with the situation over there?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean — so, look, it’s clear that Putin has not been able to accomplish the objectives he’s laid out before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia has failed to overthrow the Ukrainian government. They lost the Battle of — for Kyiv and were forced to retreat and re- — refocus elsewhere. And they have failed to divide the West.
Look, the — you know, when it comes to — you know, you hear the question about diplomacy. Diplomacy is the only way to end this conflict, but Russia has shown no signs that they are willing to seriously engage in negotiations. So, we are focused on strengthening Ukraine’s hand as possible on the battlefields so that when the time comes, they have as much leverage as possible at the negotiation table.
But, again, as we’ve said over and over again, this is — this is Russia’s war. They — they created this war. They invaded Ukraine in a brutal way. And so, what Ukraine is doing is they are defending themselves and their democracy. So, this is for Russia to end this war.
Q Thanks, Karine.
12:08 P.M. EDT