4:10 P.M. EDT
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hey, good afternoon, everybody. Okay, I have a few toppers, so please bear with me.
Over the past 15 months, we’ve made tremendous progress in our fight against COVID, with 220 million Americans fully vaccinated and over 100 million people boosted.
We’ve also moved quickly to ensure Paxlovid, an oral antiviral pill that reduces risk of hospitalization and death by almost 90 percent, is widely available.
Importantly, because of all the work the Biden administration has done on vaccines, boosters, treatments, and more, daily COVID-19 deaths are down by 90 percent from when the President took office, even as infections are rising.
So the tools that the administration has made widely available to the American people are working to prevent serious illness, to keep people out of the hospital, and to save lives.
And while COVID isn’t over, it’s critical that Americans know that we now have more tools than ever to protect ourselves. We can now prevent most COVID deaths, and that’s ma- — that’s major progress.
To drive further progress, today we announced new federal — federally supported test-to-treat sites.
Today, the first of these launches in — launches in Providence, Rhode Island. In the coming days, we’ll deploy clinical personnel to help transform several of Minnesota’s state-run testing sites into test-to-treat sites. And in the coming weeks, we will work to open more in places like New York and Illinois.
These build on the more than 2,500 sites we’ve already set up at local pharmacies and community healthcare centers.
Yesterday afternoon, the Governor of Oklahoma signed into law the most extreme piece of legislation to undo a woman’s fundamental right to make her own reproductive choices since Roe became law. This law will go into effect immediately.
Not only does this law ban abortion from the moment of fertilization, but it also adopts Texas’s — Texas plan to allow private citizens to sue their neighbors for providing reproductive healthcare and helping women to exercise their constitutional rights.
This law is the latest in a growing effort by ultra-MAGA officials across the country to roll back freedoms that should not be taken for granted. Roe has been the law of the land for almost 50 years, and it is under serious threat.
They are starting with reproductive rights, but the attack on our fundamental rights, including the right to contraception and marriage equality, is growing. And these rights are increasingly at risk.
The President believes that women have the fundamental right to make their own reproductive health choices, and he and the Vice President and the entire administration are committing to protecting these constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms.
Today, the Department of Agriculture announced new steps to strengthen food supply chains, increase competition in the meat processing sector, and lower prices for American consumers.
The Department is making $200 million available to create a new processing capacity expansion program, providing $25 million for workforce training and releasing the first of three planned rules designed to bolster enforcement of the Packers and Stocks— Stockyards Act which will increase transparency.
These actions will combat — combat market dominance by a small number of major meat and poultry processors in key markets, where excessive concentration and control has led to lower prices paid to poultry producers and higher prices by consumers.
After the severe and sweeping sanctions on the Central Bank of Russia, the Department of Treasury issued General License 9 to provide for an orderly transition so that the bond holders could get paid.
We’ve announced that we will not be renewing the license. This means that the — this means that Russia will likely fail to meet its obligation and face default, an enduring sign of their status as a pariah in the global financial system.
We expect the impact of the U.S. and the global economy to be minimal given Russia has already been isolated financially.
That being said, Treasury Department continues to monitor and have conversations with the global financial community.
I have two scheduling updates.
Next week, the President will welcome Prime Minister of New Zealand to the White House — another example of our continued commitment to the Indo-Pacific. We’ll have more details on this as we get closer.
And as you all saw, we announced that on Sunday the President and the First Lady will travel to Uvalde to grieve with the community that lost 21 lives in the horrific elementary school shooting.
We — we’ll have more to share as we get closer, but while he’s there, the President will meet with the community leaders, religious leaders, and the families of the victim.
The President and First Lady believe it is important to show their support for the community during this devastating time and to be there for the families of the victims.
And lastly, on Tuesday, as you all know, the parents of 19 kids did what so many of us parents do every morning: They gave their kids a kiss, told them they loved them, and wished them a good day at school. They figured their kids would spend their day reading, writing, doing math; playing with friends at recess. These kids never came home.
Some of these parents needed to give DNA samples to be able to identify their own children. These were elementary school kids. They should be losing their first teeth, not losing their lives. They should be at little league, softball, and soccer practices this weekend. These parents should be planning their kid’s summer, not their child’s funeral.
As — as a parent, it is unfathomable to me that this happened. These kids had their whole lives in front of them.
Our hearts ache for their families. Our hearts ache for the family and loved ones of the teachers who were killed.
Schools should be sanctuaries of learning, not battlefields. And teachers should be there to teach, nurture, prepa- — and prepare our children for the future, not to be gunned down or asked to sacrifice their own lives for the kids they love. But that is what two heroic teachers did in Uvalde — killed while trying to protect their students.
I’m a parent of an elementary school student. I know many of you in this room are as well. We cannot become numb to this. We will not accept this. A grocery store, a church, an elementary school. And this is just in the last few days. It is unacceptable.
As the President said the other night, why are we willing to live with this carnage? Why do we keep letting this happen? Where in God’s name is our backbone?
So I ask, how is protecting our children a partisan issue? How is preventing innocent people from being slaughtered controversial?
Commonsense gun safety laws work. We know this. They save lives.
As the President said Tuesday night, when the assault weapons ban passed, shootings went down. They tripled after it was lifted.
And let’s be clear: The public supports this; they are behind this — even gun owners. Ninety percent of gun owners support universal background checks. Eighty-four percent of Republicans and eighty percent of NRA members support background checks.
As the President said this week, it is time to turn this pain into action. It’s time for Congress to act.
And with that, Darlene, I will take your question.
Q Thank you. Is there any reaction here from — at the White House to the Senate Republicans blocking the domestic terrorism bill, which was supposed to open the door for some debate and discussion about gun safety, as you were just talking about?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So we’re disappointed that Congress did not move forward with the legislation that would strengthen our response to domestic terror incidents like we saw in Buffalo.
We need Congress to act on that. And we need Congress to advance commonsense measures that we know will save lives when it comes to gun violence.
Q And secondly, the NRA is opening its convention in Houston tomorrow, three days after the massacre in Uvalde. Former President Trump, Texas Governor Abbott, and others are set to speak there. Does the White House think it is appropriate for that convention to move forward? Should it be postponed, cancelled, given the events of the last few days?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So it’s not about the convention. What is inappropriate is that the leadership of the National Rifle Association has proven time and time again that they are contributing to the problem of gun violence, not trying to solve it.
They represent the interests of the gun industry, the gun manufacturers who are marketing weapons of war to young adults. They don’t represent gun owners who know that we need to take action. And it’s shameful that the NRA and their allies have stood in the way of every attempt to advance measures that will — that will — that we all know will save lives from gun violence, measures that we know would keep weapons off — of war out of the hands of people who are terrorizing our community.
So that is what matters, and it is shameful.
Go ahead, Nancy.
Q Thanks, Karine. Does the President believe that there should be an investigation into the police response to this school shooting?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So we’ve heard of — (member of the press coughs) — we’ve — need some water? You okay? (Laughs.) Just let us know.
The President — we’ve — we’ve been watching the reporting on this. The President has the utmost respect, as you all know, for the men and women of law enforcement. Just days ago, he honored the memory of the former police officer, Aaron Salter, in Buffalo who was killed bravely while trying to stop the shooter at the supermarket.
I know that right now authorities are working to piece together more details of what happened in Uvalde, so we won’t prejudge the results from here at this time.
It is al- — it is always a good idea to look back and try to find any lessons we can learn, especially from trag- — tragedies like this, so that we can prevent them from moving forward, including law enforcement response.
Q And is the President considering calling on Congress to stay in town to work on this issue instead of going home for a week-long recess?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So we have been in close touch with Congress — even before this shooting and, clearly, what we saw in Buffalo — about gun reform. This is something that has been a priority from the Pre- — for the President since day one of his administration. And we also have been in close touch and we really appreciate what Senator Schumer and Speaker Pelosi have been doing.
You know, the President has been very clear that it’s time to act, it’s time for Congress to act. The President has long urged Congress to take action to fight gun violence, including by expanding background checks. He supports Leader Schumer’s plan to bring legislation forward.
They — the Congress would clearly handle the mechanics of all of this. And, you know, during — as you all may remember, during the State of the Union, the President asked Congress to pass proven measures to reduce gun violence, pass universal background checks. Why should anyone on — on the terrorist list be able to purchase a weapon?
Those were what — is what he said just a couple of months ago. So we have an opportunity to do that right now. And we encourage Congress to act.
Q And then, finally, the average age of suspects at school mass shootings is 18. Would the President support raising the age at which someone can buy a gun to 21?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So the President was very clear about this just recently when he said that the — that — in his remarks, just on Tuesday, that it doesn’t make sense for an 18-year-old to legally buy an assault weapon.
And so, he made very clear on Tuesday when he — after he landed from Asia and had to deal with such a devastating news that happened in Texas.
Yeah, go ahead.
Q Thanks, Karine. There was a bipartisan group of senators — nine senators — that met today. Does the White House have any confidence that this group could reach a meaningful agreement? And does the White House plan to get involved with those negotiations? Would the President bring that group down while they’re having these talks and meet with them?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I don’t have anything to preview for you as to any meetings — upcoming meetings that may be happening at the White House this week or next week or in the coming weeks.
We really, truly, as I said, leave it to — the mechanics up to Senator Schumer and Speaker Pelosi. We are confident in — in that they will — that Senator Schumer will bring this forward.
And again, it is time for Congress to act. This is what the President has been calling for since the beginning of his administration, and that’s what we want to see and that’s what we encourage Congress to do.
Q And Senator Schumer has signaled that they have roughly 10 days to get to a conclusion. Is that a timeline that the White House wants to see? And if at the end of that 10 days there is no agreement, the White House wants to see the Senate move forward on the two House-passed bills?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Again, we leave the mechanics to Senator Schumer. We want to see action. That is what we’re calling for.
And — but again, we leave it to the leadership — the Democratic leadership to figure out how they’re going to move this forward.
Q And just one quick one: Can you give us any sense — has the President talked to other officials in Texas since Tuesday — or who he’s talked to on the phone about what happened down there?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have any — any calls to preview.
Clearly, the President is very much — and the First Lady — is looking forward to meeting with the families, community leaders when they’re there on Sunday.
We have been trying to give the families some time to grieve, as this just happened two days ago. But again, he’s going to see them on Sunday and have that opportunity to offer comfort.
Q Karine, are you getting any sense that this time is different, that there’s a different climate on Capitol Hill that might be inclined to do some — some things?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I’ll say this, Steve: You know, we have seen two horrific tragedies in just two weeks. Hours before the shooting, many of the 19 kids who were killed in Texas, Uvalde, were being awarded certificates of the Robb — of the Robb Elementary’s Honor Roll ceremony as part of the end of the school year. Today would have been their last day of school and — for the school year.
In Buffalo, on the same day — on the same day that this happened just two days ago, 2 of the 10 people who were killed while going to the grocery store on a Sunday, like many of us do, were being buried and honored by their families. I’m talking about Aaron Salter, the security officer who first responded, and Celestine Chaney, a mother and grandmother of six, were being buried by loved ones right in Buffalo on that same day.
So, America has more guns than people in this country. If more guns were indeed the solution, we would be the safest country in the world, but we are not.
And so, the President has been very clear he wants action — he wants Congress to take action. He wants to turn this pain into action.
And I hope the Senate, and particularly those who have been unwilling to act in the face of previous tragedies, will act now. And that’s what we are hoping and urging Congress to do.
Q Is the President considering some unilateral actions on guns? There are a number of gun safety advocates who are pushing for things like a gun czar or a state of emergency declaration.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, on your first part, you know, while we’ve been calling for Congress to act, and the President has done that since the first couple of days of the White House, he has been waiting, right? We have talked about the things — the comprehensive approaches that he’s taken.
We recently announced how over $10 billion from the Rescue Plan has been spent or committed on ways to fight gun — gun crime and gun violence. The President wants cities and states to use even more. The department — the Justice Department issued a tough new rule to stem the flow of ghost guns, which are increasingly being found at the crime scenes and which are the weapons of choice for terrorists and criminals.
So, the administration — the administration issued a zero-tolerance policy for gun dealers who willfully sell guns illegally.
So, this President has done more via executive actions than any other President during their first year of office.
Now, what we are asking for is for Congress — we are urging them to take action.
Q Thanks, Karine. How does the President view his role in this moment? You know, we talked yesterday about changing a dynamic — a dynamic that’s been entrenched for decades now at this point.
I understand the legislative details are Capitol Hill’s prerogative. How does he view his role in trying to change that dynamic?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I think he — he views his role has as he has been doing.
You know, if you think about his remarks on Tuesday, it was — it was compassion, it was sadness, it — it was outrage.
And you heard that from — from the President of the United States, basically saying “enough is enough.” And this is something that he understands personally. This is a President who has worked on gun violence during his Senate years, as Vice President, and has leadership already from the first couple of days of stepping into this administration.
So, we have done — we have done our part. Will there be more executive actions and will we do more? We’ll look into that. We’re always looking to do more. But, right now, we need the help of Congress. We need them to step in and to deal with this gun violence that we’re seeing that’s tearing up not just families but communities across the country.
Q You were on —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh —
Q Just one more quick one.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, yeah.
Q You were on Air Force One. Can you talk about the President’s reaction when he got the news, when more details started to come out over the course of those hours — those final hours on the flight, and as he prepared for his remarks on Tuesday night, which he echoed on Wednesday?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. As you said, Phil, I was with the President on the plane, on Air Force One, because we were coming back from Asia, and I got to see him right before he delivered the speech.
Honestly, I will — would leave the speech to stand for itself. You heard his emotion. You heard what he said very, very clearly. And again, you heard the outrage, which we heard — which we saw from some of you on TV, from some of you who — some of your colleagues who are in Texas who were talking to families on the ground, the communities on the ground — the outrage, the sadness, the grief. And that’s what you heard from this President.
And, you know, he said a couple of things that I think it’s important to reiterate, as we — as we really think about what happened — is that, you know, there are parents who will never see their child again, parents who will never be the same. And the President said, “To lose a child is like having a piece of your soul ripped away…It’s suffocating. And it’s never quite the same. And it’s a feeling shared by…their family members, and the community that’s left behind.”
So that is the Pres- — the President’s focus right now. He’s going to go, clearly, on Sunday to offer his comfort, to grieve with the family and the community. But at the same time, he is going to call on Congress to take action because it’s been too long. And now is the time to act.
Q Two quick things. First, apparently the company that sold the shooter his rifles received a $3 million PPP loan under the last administration. Do you know if there’s any effort by this administration to claw that money back?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I — this is the first I’m hearing about this, so I would have to go back to the team and look into it. Do you know the name of the company?
Q Yeah, the name of the company is Daniel Defense — D-A-N-I-E-L Defense. Apparently, they received a, I think, $3.1 million PPP loan right at the beginning. My colleagues have been writing about it apparently today. But if — if — assuming that is confirmed, would the President, do you think, support the idea of trying to claw that money back?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — honestly, Michael, I need to — to check with the team and just make sure that is actually factual.
Q Okay. And then —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: But I need to check with the team.
Q Thank you. I would appreciate that. And then —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: And we’ll get back to on that.
Q Okay. And then just, you know, going back to the question that I’m sure, you know, everybody has been asking, which is the, sort of “what is the President going to do and can do,” you talk a lot about the outrage. You talk a lot about that he wants Congress to act. You talk a lot about the emotion. I was in this room — I think a lot of the other people — a lot of people here were too — when the President Obama cried at that very podium hours after the Newtown — Newtown shootings.
There have been a million shootings since then, lots of expressions of outrage, lots of expressions of wanting the — wanting Congress to act. They haven’t.
I mean, there are people out there — saw several of them on TV today — who say this President needs to do more than all of that. This President needs to declare a national emergency. He needs to create task forces. He needs to create, you know, a czar of gun things. He needs to say he’s not leaving this building, cancel his vacations. Tell Congress — you know, members from Congress to get in a room and not — not leave until they — you know, until they got a solution, and not accept some of the sort of half measures that, you know, are sort of being offered.
And I guess the question is: Why — why isn’t he doing of that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, on the public health — on the emergency, he has already done that. The President has already declared gun violence to be a — to be a public health epidemic. He has done that already. And he has mobilized our federal departments and agencies, including the Department of Health Services, to respond. So that is — has been done.
Look, this is a President, as I’ve said already, who has been working on gun violence, gun reform — comprehensive gun reform since he was a senator. And he also was there, as you were talking about — you know, what President Biden — I mean, President Obama had to deal with. He was there. He was his partner in that and took on that — that portfolio of dealing with gun violence. He was there at the table.
Q But isn’t that more of an indictment than it is a plus to say that the current President has been involved in this for more than — you know, more than — you know for decades and it’s not being fixed? These things are happening over and over again.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: But look, Michael, we are frustrated as well. We are angry as well.
Look, I said this earlier and I’ll say it again: This is a President who has done more via executive actions — this is how much of a priority this is for him, because we’re a year into his presidency — more via executive actions than any president in their first year.
Q But many — but many of those are not directly related to —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Right. Which is why —
Q — the issues of mass shootings. They —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Which —
Q — may be directly related —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I hear you.
Q — to guns, but — and that’s important — I’m not saying — but —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Right.
Q — they’re not directly related to —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, this is why we’re calling on Congress to act. The President is doing what — the President is your — the President is doing what he can — right? — from here, from the White House.
And now — and he has said he cannot do this alone. He has been very clear. We — he understands we need to do more, but Congress also has to act. He has done a comprehensive plan on gun — on gun violence. We have listed that out.
Every couple of months, we talk about what he’s doing, what executive action he’s taking. And now he is saying, “Congress needs to act.” And — but he has been saying that for some time.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Kristen.
Q Karine —
Q To the back please?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Give me one second, please.
Q I just — I want to follow up on this idea, because the President campaigned on a promise to be able to bring Democrats and Republicans together to get the hard things done. Why has he not been able to bring them together to make this a legislative priority to even get a small measure done when it comes to (inaudible)?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I think that’s what Senator Schumer is trying to do.
Q Yeah, but why not do that in the early days of his presidency?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, we have been talking to Congress before these two shootings that have been clearly very public and very devastating and horrific in this past two weeks. We’re doing it now.
Look, we know that this is not easy. We’re not saying that this is easy. And the President is doing everything that he can to get this done, but we have — we’re going to continue to call on Congress to act.
Q Does this now move to the top of his —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It’s a priority.
Q — legislative priorities, above Build Back Better —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It’s —
Q — above COVID relief? Does this now need to be the singular focus of —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’ve —
Q — all of Washington D.C.?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Kristen, I would argue that this has been a top priority from the — from the time —
Q But the singular focus for the President and lawmakers?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m — I’m not going to list out his — the one, two, or three of priority. What I can tell you is this has been a top priority. Literally, he — he started working on this the first couple of days he walked into the — into — into this office.
Q And you’re getting a lot of questions about the czar. I guess, just to ask more spe- — to ask in a different way: Former President Obama appointed then-Vice President Biden to take control of this issue. Are there any discussions — is the President considering tasking his Vice President with trying to get something done on this issue?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, we — we have Ambassador Susan Rice, who is the President’s domestic policy advisor, as you all know, and she is coordinating the President’s whole-of-government approach to reducing gun violence.
She has decades of experience coordinating interagency processes in the federal government. There is no one better at bringing department heads to the table to drive the process.
She has a team of 12 staff under the Domestic Policy Council who are working on gun violence reduction, taking an interdisciplinary approach that recognizes that we need all sorts of expertise at the table, from mental health to criminal justice to housing to education, to address the issue.
In addition to the Domestic Policy Council, there’s the Executive Office of the President, the White House Counsel’s Office, the Office of the Intergovernmental Affairs, and the Office of Public Engagement. All are playing key roles in gun violence prevention, as do several of the federal agencies, which I’ve listed out already.
Q Karine, given everything you just laid out, and the President said yesterday he will use every tool that’s available, I guess, why hasn’t he stood up a task force — an interagency task force on preventing gun violence? He has done it dozens of times on everything from COVID to unionizing since the start of his presidency. There’s also an outstanding request, I believe, from House Democrats over the past year that he appoint a national director — I guess a czar, as Kristen said — and start a task force.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I just —
Q Is that something he is going to consider?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I just walked through a whole-of-government approach that we’re taking — that’s how important this is — across departments here at the White House and also with several agencies. We’re talking about the DOJ — Department of Justice. We’re talking about HHS. All very much involved here on — on how we’re moving forward.
You know —
Q But, I guess, why not make an official interagency task force?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Because we have a whole-of-government approach. We have a whole-of-government approach that I just mentioned, that Ambassador Susan Rice is leading, along with other departments.
And — and with that whole-of-government approach, we have been able to put forth executive actions at a level that we have not seen from any other presidents. We have been able to deal with this in a comprehensive way.
What we are saying right now is that we need help. We need assistance. The President cannot do this alone. The Congress needs to act. They need to pass legislation so that we can deal with this on a federal level — legislative level.
Q Last question: Is the President making any — or is he considering calling or reaching out to the BORTAC agent who was injured in Uvalde while he was protecting students during the shooting?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have any — I don’t have anything to preview or read out for you. As I — as you know — as you know, he’s going to — on Sunday, he’s going to be meeting with community leaders, he’s going to be meeting with victims and family members. And so, we’ll have more to share. I just don’t have anything to share at this time.
Okay. I’ll go to the back.
Q Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Go ahead. Go ahead. Go ahead. It’s hard to —
Q I would like to ask you a question about the school shooting. But before that, I want to ask you a quick one about the FDA and the baby formula shortage there. It’s lasted months, and we’re not just talking about baby formula, either. There are infants, children, and adults with different metabolic disorders who are risking permanent, irreversible damage the longer they go without special formulas that are manufactured at Abbott Nutrition.
I’m wondering, does the President have confidence in the FDA’s ability to deal with situations like this? And as he’s been monitoring the situation, does he still have confidence in his FDA director?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yes. Yes and yes. So the FDA has an important mission, right? It’s to make sure that the infant formula on the shelf isn’t just available but also that it’s safe. And as a parent, I understand the frustration, I understand the fear of not mak- — not knowing if you have safe and healthy food, baby formula in this case, to — for your kids.
Unlike, you know, Republicans in Congress and the previous administration, the President believes that FDA, and particularly its food division, needs to be well resourced to do its critical work and do regular annual inspection.
So we have to just take a little bit of — just give me a second here — take a step back.
The current shortage exists because Abbott closed, as you — as you know, a facility in Michigan due to safety concerns from the FDA — a facility that was a major producer of specialty formula, as you’re asking me about, right? And so FDA has an obligation to protect the American people, and that’s what Dr. Califf is going to be doing at the helm.
Q And then the second que- —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: But — go ahead. Go ahead. You have a follow-up. Go ahead.
Q Second question. We’ve been having a lot of conversations about specifics when it comes to mass shootings, whether it’s red flag laws or background checks. Getting down to, though brass tacks, what does the President believe, at this point, is the purpose of the Second Amendment? And does he think that, given some of the tragedies that we’ve seen, that there should be a discussion about, you know, its ultimate purpose and whether or not it’s currently in date?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So the President has been very clear: What he is calling for is commonsense gun reform. That’s it. He’s calling for commonsense gun reform to make sure that if you go to a church, you go to elementary school, you go to a grocery store, that you’re not gunned down. That’s what he’s asking for.
It has — we’re not talking about the Second Amendment or — or doing anything to — to get rid of the Second Amendment. We’re talking about making sure — 19 — 19 kids and two teachers died. That’s the second major mass shooting that has — has occurred in two weeks. And that — we’re not even talking about the crime that we see, the gun violence that we see across the country on a regular basis.
So we have to make sure that we have gun reform. That’s why we’re — we’re calling on Congress to act.
Q Thank you, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, okay. Okay. Go ahead, April. I’m trying to stay in the back.
Q Karine, I want to ask you about an issue that’s been in the news nationally and internationally: the grains issue.
House Foreign — House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Greg Meeks is in Europe meeting with world leaders on the issue. He says that’s all people are really talking about right now, is the grains issue. And as you know, there’s a blockade of the Black Sea. Russia’s blocked —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, the export. Yeah.
Q — there’s a blockade of the Black Sea for the exports of grain, and also India is having problems. So the issue is Russia.
Will this White House look at relenting when it comes to issues of sanctions against Russia to allow the grains to go out? Because, right now, Meeks is saying the issue is starvation, as well as prices in the grocery store.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I th- — so the question that you’re asking about, if I’m getting this right, is, like, Russia is — has made a proposal to us to — to allow exports in exchange for lifting the sanctions?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: And so, you know, we want to be very, very clear here, because this is very important: This is Russia who is actively blocking the export of food from Ukrainian ports and is increasing world hunger. This is on them.
Russia should immediately cease its war on Ukraine, which is devastating global food security, and allow the free flow of Ukrainian food.
Before Russia attacked Ukraine in February, Ukraine was the world’s largest export of sunflower oil; the fourth largest export of corn, which is what you’re asking about, April, with the wheat; and one of the largest exports of wheat, this — what you’re asking about.
Now, there are tons of products sitting in se- — in silos in Ukraine and on ships that are unable to set sail due to Russia’s naval blockade.
So — and to be clear about some- — something that has been the subject of Russian disinformation: Sanctions from the United States and its allies and its partners are not preventing the export of Ukrainian or Russian agriculture, including food and fertilizer, nor are they preventing the ordinary transactions that are necessary for these exports, such as banking or shipping.
Therefore, even according to the terms of their own apparent proposal that they have presented — presented us, Russia should immediately allow Ukrainian agricultural exports.
Q So there is no —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q — there is no conversation at all about lifting sanctions? You’re saying —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No.
Q — no?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: There — there is not. Remember, again, this is Russia’s doing. This is on Russia.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Oh, my gosh.
Q On formula?
Q All the way back. All the way back. (Laughter.)
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Nadia.
Q Thank you so much. I have two foreign policy questions.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Sure.
Q First, a team from the White House is visiting Saudi Arabia, led by Brett McGurk. Is the President still trying to convince the Saudis to increase the production of oil? And is this part of preparation for the President’s visit to Saudi Arabia?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I don’t have anything to preview at this time on — on a — on a trip or a visit from the President.
I will confirm that Brett McGurk and Amos Hochstein were in the region to follow up on conversations on a range of — range of issues, including Iran’s disab- — destabilizing activities, ensuring stable global energy supplies, and other regional issues.
On your question about oil, you know, it’s — this trip is to review engagement with Saudi Arabia on energy security, as asking for oil is simply wrong — that’s the way that we see it — and a misunderstanding of both the complexity of that issue, as well as our multifaceted discussions with the Saudis.
OPEC-Plus will make its own decision as it relates to this, the oil, and as it always has. We are in consultation with all relevant producers about market conditions, including Saudi Arabia.
Q I have one more, please, on Syria. The head of the Lebanese intelligence chief have met with people at the White House. He told me in an interview that you raised the question of American hostages in Syria held by the Syrian regime. Can you update us on the case on — specifically on Austin Tice and whether his release is imminent? I know it’s sensitive because you’re talking to the families.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as you know, this — it’s a very sensitive issue. And so, this is not — it’s not something that I want to comment from here, so I won’t. I just can’t. I don’t want to do that just because of — it’s diplomatic negotiations, and I want to leave it in that space.
(Cross-talk by reporters.)
I’ll come back.
Go ahead. Go ahead.
Q Has the White House detected any mood shift that makes you optimistic after this shooting that something is finally going to happen, that something is finally going to get passed after 19 children were shot down?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, you know, we don’t have our finger on the pulse of — on the mood. What we can do is continue to fight for American families, for American communities, as we see the violence that has — especially the two major — major tragedies that we’ve seen these last two weeks — and call on Congress to act.
The President, again — and I’ve stated this — he has taken executive actions over this past year and a half, which is more — again, more than any President has done in its first term. And he cannot do this alone.
And so, he — he is going to leave it to Senator Schumer, who is doing the — going through the mechanics of what that’s going to look like moving — moving legislation forward.
And so, we appreciate their efforts. We appreciate his effort. We appreciate the Speaker’s effort. And we’re going to continue to have those conversations, as we have been throughout this past year and a half.
Q Thanks, Karine. So, after the President visited with families in Buffalo, he was asked, “What more can you do on guns via executive action?” And he said, quote, “Not much on executive action.”
As Steve said, there are multiple gun safety groups that disagree with that statement and have pages of — of executive actions that they think the President can take. Does the President have any plans to meet with gun safety advocates? I know when he was Vice President, he had hundreds of meetings in the EEOB in his office there with groups. Does he plan to meet with them? And if not, why not?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I don’t have anything to preview. I’m not — not at this time.
I — you know, I just talked about Susan Rice and her team, the Domestic Policy Council. I’ve talked about the public engagement team and others, DOJ and also HHS.
And those teams have been regularly talking to outside experts, outside groups over the course of this past year and a half. That’s how we were able to put forward these executive action, comprehensive effort to deal with gun reform. So, that conversations — those conversations are going to continue. I just don’t have anything to preview for you on this one.
Q (Inaudible) on the meetings, but just in terms of that sentiment where — where the President says there’s not much more on executive action that he can do. Does this shooting in Texas change that at all?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I think what he is — I — just to speak to that: Look, the President has done a lot. He really has. The fact that I’m able to state this historical fact of how much — how much he’s done in his first year and a half.
But, you know, we’re always looking at what else we can do. But we have done — you know, we have done so much. I just read it out — including stemming the flow of ghost guns, cracking down on gun trafficking, and using the American Rescue Plan funds to invest in keeping officers on the beat to fight gun crime and gun violence.
And so, we’re going to continue constantly looking at additional executive action so we can move forward.
But the President, again, cannot solve this problem alone. He needs Congress to do its job and to act.
Q On that point: What role do you guys expect Senator McConnell to play on any sort of bipartisan gun legislation? Does the President plan to contact him or speak with him at all? And what are you hoping for from the Senate Minority Leader?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look — you know, again, we’re going to leave the mechanics to how this gets done to the leadership — to the leadership in Congress, Senator Schumer and Speaker Pelosi.
We have had several conversations before these major shootings that occurred these last two weeks. This is an issue that has been a priority for this President since the moment he walked in — into this office and, as I mentioned, as a senator, as a Vice President, and now as President.
So, there’s an array of issues that we talk to Congress on a regular basis. And again, we’re going to continue to have those conversations.
Q On the gun issue, just a quick follow-up: Is one of the concerns of the White House that moving ahead with executive actions right now while there are talks in Congress could sink those talks in Congress? Is that why you’re holding — one of the reasons you might be holding back on moving forward with the executive actions?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No. I mean, we’ve been very clear: It’s time for Congress to act. We cannot do this alone. The President cannot do this alone. So, we’re asking Congress to act so we can have federal laws to actually deal with reforming — reforming — doing gun reform — comprehensive gun reform.
Q On the Summit of the Americas, President Bolsonaro of Brazil has said he plans to attend now. AMLO, of Mexico, is still making mixed signals. Can you say whether those invitations have now formally gone out to all of those leaders? And are the governments of Venezuela and Cuba and Nicaragua going to be excluded?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, we’re still considering additional invites, and we’ll share them when — when it — we feel it’s appropriate — when it’s final. And that’s when we’ll share them. I don’t have anything right now to share as far as a fi- — as a list.
Q And then just one last one.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Mm-hmm.
Q The CBO came out with a report earlier this week that showed inflation was going to remain above target toward the — well, going down but still above target to the end of this year and then into next year. I mean, has the White House, sort of, painted too rosy a picture on how quickly inflation is going to go down, given the projections that came out from CBO this week?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, a couple of things. So, as you mentioned, the CBO report came out yesterday. It projects stable, steady economic growth in the year — in the years ahead, as inflation eases, the deficit falls dramatically this year.
On the deficit, the CBO projects that our deficit this year will fall by $1.7 trillion, after it fell by $350 billion just last year. That’s after the deficit increased every single year President Trump was in office. And it is a lower deficit for 2022 than the CBO projected before passage of the American Rescue Plan. That means that our econo- — our strong economic recovery, powered by the President’s economic and vaccination policies also improved our nation’s fiscal position and reduced our deficit.
On growth and inflation, CBO projects the economy to grow by 3.1 percent this year and 2.2 percent next year, with core personal con- — consumption
exemption [expenditures] — that’s PCE — inflation falling to 2.3 percent by the end of next year. This is the kind of transition from a historic economic recovery — again, steady, stable economic growth that works for working families — that President — that the President’s policies are designed to bring about.
So that’s how we’re — how we’re viewing the CBO report.
Go ahead, you had something on formula you said?
Q Yeah. Can you tell us if there are any more flights planned from — foreign flights for formula?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have anything to — to preview at this time. But we will have some more information in the upcoming days.
Q Is that because you all are working on it and the details are not there or can we expect more flights?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, definitely, you’ll expect more flights. I just don’t have anything to announce at this time. And, as you know, the second flight landed in Dulles yesterday. The First Lady was there to receive the — the formula and the — and the package that landed.
Q And then on the FDA question: You said — you brought up the Abbott plant, and it was kind of put on them. But Senator Patty Murray — today, she told the FDA head that she gives the FDA an “F” on not realizing the warning signs of the crisis. And she also says that they have not given her a plan that she’s requested about how to stabilize a food safety program. So is there anything the White House can ensure that the FDA has been in response to Senator Murray and those on Capitol Hill?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, let me just first say this — this is — they’re hearing — during the hearing yesterday, Dr. Califf has said, “It’s important we get to the bottom of what happened with the — with the Sturgis facility and the root of what has caused the issues we’re facing today.” He has designated someone to lead an after-action report.
But we have to take a step back here and look at the dynamics of what we’re dealing with: We have fau- — four companies that make up 98 percent of the market. An industry that’s — that’s concentrated means more vulnerability to the supply shocks and fewer options for consumption.
And because of Abbott’s vol- — voluntary recall, there have been huge disruptions to formula supply of a highly concentrated market. So we have to fix this.
So, our focus right now is on getting more infant formula supply to families across the country as quickly as possible, as well running a historic agenda to diversify markets and grow the number of companies competing for — for your business. This is what — this is what will — will help avoid situations like this in the future.
But he has said it is important to get to the bottom of this and has appointed someone to do that.
Q Thanks, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Thank you, everybody. Thank you.
4:53 P.M. EDT