Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:33 P.M. EDT
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Good afternoon, everybody. As you all know, next week the President will reiterate the need for Congress to act on the debt limit. He will also discuss initiating a separate process to address the budget and appropriations because, as we have long said, we welcome a conversation about spending priorities while reining in wasteful spending.
The President has already cut the deficit by $1.2 — $1.7 trillion. And his budget cuts wasteful spending, including on Big Pharma and Big Oil, and achieves a deficit reduction of $3 trillion over the next 10 years.
That’s because the President thinks we should cut oil, gas subsidies at a time when Big Oil made $200 billion in profit last year.
It’s because the President thinks we should save taxpayers hundreds of billions in prescription drug costs when just five pharma companies made $80 billion in profit last year.
So the President’s commitment to cutting wasteful spending has never been in doubt. But MAGA Republicans in Congress have taken the opposite approach. They want to protect wasteful spending for Pharma, Big Oil, and other special interests, and instead put forward a spending proposal that would hurt veterans and devastate federal and local law enforcement.
We’ve already detailed how their Default on America Act would cut 81,000 jobs from the VA, reduce outpatient visit by 30 million, and increase the disability claims backlog by an estimated 134
Sadly, their bill also makes defunding law enforcement one of the most high-profile legislative actions of their new majority. Nearly every single member of the House Republican conference just voted to slash the Drug Enforcement Agency, lay off over 2,000 Border Patrol agents, slash COPS program, and slash the FBI and ATF budgets. And they are doing all of this just as they can continue to give the richest Americans and the biggest corporations a handout.
In doing so, they’ve signaled to the whole country, to the American people, that they are willing to give fentanyl-pushing drug cartels a pass, hamstring the Border Patrol, and emaciate the budgets of local and federal law enforcement’s officers on the frontlines of fighting violent crime.
The President has long said — and you’ve heard me say this as well, and he said this many, many times — “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”
Unfortunately, the Republican spending plan shows that they value tax giveaways to the rich more than they value law enforcement who keep our community safe.
Now, today marks the 30th World Press Freedom Day. It is not an exaggeration to say that the free press is essential to our democracy and democracies everywhere.
As the President has said, Evan Gershkovich and Austin Tice weigh heavy on our minds today and every day. Their wrongful detentions are part of a deeply troubling trend we see around the world that we must stand up and call out.
As you may know — or as you may not know, in 2022 alone, the Committee to Protect Journalists estimates that 363 journalists were jailed simply for doing their job — a new record high.
The U.S. government is doing everything it can through our diplomacy and foreign assistance to support journalists, keep them safe, and hold accountable the autocrats and their enablers who continue to repress a free and independent media.
Second, I want to take this moment to celebrate the return of one of your colleagues, Benjamin Hall. Ben returned to the State Department briefing room this week for the first time since sustaining severe injuries while covering the war in Ukraine. We are glad to have him back. But we continue to mourn the loss of so many other journalists who have been killed or injured there as — as they work to shed light on the conflict’s horror that we’re seeing in Ukraine currently.
As President Biden said, and I quote, “Today and every day, we must all stand with journalists around the world. We must all speak out against those who wish to silence them. And we must all continue to support a free press that is essential, again, to our democracy” and — “our democracy and democracies everywhere.”
In other news, we will have — we will have an announcement today that — from the Biden-Harris administration: a new package of security assistance to help Ukraine continue to defend itself on the battlefield and protect its people against Russian aggression.
The package, which will be announced later this afternoon by Departments of State and Defense, includes more ammunition for U.S.-provided HIMARS that Ukraine has been using so effectively, as well as additional howitzers, artillery, and mortar rounds, and anti-armor capabilities.
This is the 37th package of security assistance for Ukraine using presidential drawdown authorities. And it follows — it follows extensive work by the U.S. government over the past few months to fulfill Ukraine’s request ahead of its planned counteroffensive, and ensure they have the weapons and equipment they need.
We will continue to work with our allies and partners around the world to support Ukraine as they defend their democracy.
Finally, today, the World Bank’s Board of Governors elected Ajay Banga as its next president with resounding approval. Ajay has the right leadership and management skills experience in emerging markets and financial expertise to lead the World Bank at a critical moment in its history.
Ajay will play a key role steering the World Bank to address global challenges we face, like climate change and pandemics and fragility and conflict, while ushering in the fundamental changes in development finance that this moment requires.
President Biden and our administration are looking forward to working with Ajay in this new role.
And bless you.
With that, Aamer.
Q Thank you. Has the administration determined that there’s any validity to Russia’s claim that it’s thwarted an attempted drone strike on the Kremlin aimed at President Putin?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, we are aware of the reports but are unable to confirm the authenc- — authenticity of them at this time. And so I don’t want to get into speculation from here about what happened. But we are — we are indeed aware of the reports.
Q Separately, is — does the administration see Putin, as the commander-in-chief of Russian troops that have waged this war against Ukraine, as a lawful military target?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, here’s what I will say: Since the beginning of this conflict, the United States is certainly not encouraging, enabling — or enabling Ukraine to strike beyond its borders. We’ve been very clear from — from here about that.
But again, I don’t want to get into speculation from here about the autencity [sic] — authenticity of this report. So I’m just not going to speculate from here.
Q If I could just ask you a follow-up on yesterday with the announcement on 1,500 troops going to the border. Does the administration plan to take any additional steps in the days ahead? Once those COVID-era restrictions expire in a few days, do you feel ready for what may be coming next on the border?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, as you mentioned, we announced — the Department of Defense announced that they will have personal — personnel troops supporting CBP at — at the border. And this has occurred, as I mentioned here at the — at the podium, for more — for almost two decades.
It is going to be in the role of performing administrative task, data — data entry, and also warehouse — warehouse report. It will allow CBP to actually be able to perform their duties, which is critical to their law enforcement duties, if you will. They will not be engaging with the migrants. So I just want to be clear about that.
We have been — this administration — for the past several months — and you’ve heard from the Department of Homeland Security a couple of times in the past several months; you’ve heard from the Department of State as well, when they did their — their press conference last week — we’ve been preparing for what is to come when Title 42 is lifted. And we have put programs in place.
And — and, you know, we will have more to share. Whether it’s process centers, whether it’s the troops, whether it’s the parolee program, we have clearly — the President is using, this administration is using the tools that they have available to them to deal with — to deal what will — the next steps, I should say, after Title 42 lifts.
I will also add — and we’ve been saying this — again, you know, Congress needs to act. They need to stop — Republicans need to stop doing a political stunts and need to come to the table and — and deal with this in a bipartisan way.
The President has taken this very seriously. As you all know, on the first day of this administration, he put forth a comprehensive immigration plan because he understands how critically important this issue is.
Go ahead, Mary.
Q I understand that you can’t confirm the authenticity of this alleged drone attack. But regardless of that, how concerned are you, as Ukrainian officials have suggested, that Russia could use this to launch some new kind of provocation?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I — I want to be super mindful here. Again, we’ve heard the reports. Not something we want to — that we are able to confirm. I want to be incredibly mindful here.
It is really too early to tell, as you asked me about a false flag, essentially. But, obviously, Russia has a history of doing things like this.
But again, I don’t want to speculate; I don’t want to get into hypotheticals from here. But we’re just unable to confirm at this time.
Q And on the steps that you are taking to prepare for the end of Title 42, this agreement was announced, you know, overnight between the U.S. and Mexico. Can you just help us understand how many migrants will Mexico continue to accept under this new agreement and for how long? You know, they had agreed to, I believe, 30,000 a month.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So just a — just a couple of things so folks are aware. So while Republicans continue to push to lay off 2,000 Border Patrol agents, we are firing on all cynd- — cylinders to prepare for the return to Title 8 on May 11th.
And so, last week, the Biden-Harris administration announced those sweeping measures that I mentioned moments ago from the State and DHS to expand legal pathways, launch regional process centers, surge asylum officers and judges, and more.
And yesterday, as you are alluding to here, Mary, we announced additional joint actions with Mex- — Mexico, including participation in regional processing centers and continuation of effective border enforcement measures under Title 8.
And so we’re using all the tools available to us. I don’t have a number to share at this time. But this is something that, again, we’re taking very seriously as we head towards the lifting of Title 8 on May 11th. We are doing everything that we can to put programs, to put processes in ti- — in place to deal with what will occur at the border.
Again, we need Congress to act.
Q As part of this agreement, though, Mexico has agreed to continue accepting migrants from these four countries that have been turned away at the U.S. border. As part of this agreement, is the U.S. providing any funding to Mexico?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, not going to get into — these are diplomatic conversations that are happening, diplomatic — diplomatic discussions. Certainly not going to get into that from here.
But I can say this: Our two countries are committed to working together and — to address our regional migration challenge, and we’ve both taken action to address this humanitarian situation. Mexico, as you all know, is a sovereign country that makes its own decision, and we welcome their partnership in this, as we have been partners with — with others in the region.
Again, I’m just not going to get into diplomatic conversations from here.
Q You mentioned that the administration is preparing for what is to come or what will occur after Title 42 lifts. Can you describe or provide some detail as to what the White House is anticipating when this COVID-era border restriction expires?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, not going to — look, we know — and I’ve said this — we have tools that are in front of us that the President is going to use to deal with what we are seeing at the border. And this is something that the President has taken initiative on since the beginning of this administration.
And we want to do this in a safe, orderly, and humane way. That has been kind of the mantra of how we see moving forward with the immigration system.
And we’re doing this without help, without assistance from Congress, Republicans in Congress in particular. And — and we’re doing everything that we can to be prepared for once Title 42 lifts.
I don’t have any numbers to share for you at this time. I don’t have — we don’t have a kind of speculation or hypotheticals of what will happen once Title 42 lifts. We just know that we are preparing for that — for that to occur on May 11th, and we’ll continue to do that.
And, again, you’ve heard from the Department of Homeland Security, you’ve heard from the Department of State that they’ve held a press conference just last week to lay out some of the processes and some of the tools that we are using.
Q Well, and to that end, the administration has taken unprecedented measures, be it deporting now certain non-Mexican nationals to Mexico for the first time, preparing to roll out an asylum regulation. How confident is the President that this will drive down numbers while also facing criticism from his own allies that he should not be taking these steps? And then also, is he talking to the mayors who are asking for more assistance?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So those are two separate questions. I’ll take the first one.
As you talk about criticism for our — from our allies, the President put forward a plan to manage the challenges that we’re seeing at the border on his first day.
And, you know, again, Republicans refuse — they refuse to come to the table. They’ve refused to pass the plan to fund — to fund the plan that he put forward. And so until Congress acts, we’re using the tools that we have available to us to face this challenge.
Again, a safe, orderly, humane way of moving forward with what we’re seeing at the border.
We’re expanding legal pathways for protection. We’re limiting unlawful immigration. We’re increasing border security. And we’re working with regional partners to jointly manage this challenge — as we just announced, Title 8 with Mexico.
As it relates to cities, I have said this yesterday that, you know, we’re in regular communication with cities — mayors and cities across the country who are dealing with this issue. The State Department and Department of Homeland Security put out a plan to manage regional migration flows and reduce unlawful migration. And, you know, they are also in regular touch with border communities. And we’ll be awarding an additional 250- — $290 million in the upcoming weeks to support them.
So that is the assistance that we are providing to them. We are committed to managing this challenge, again, in a safe, orderly, and humane way. That is what we have said since the beginning of this administration. That’s what we will continue to do.
Go ahead, Nandita.
Q Thanks, Karine. Just a quick question on Russia. A senior aide to Zelenskyy called the acquisition from Russia a sign that the Kremlin was planning a major new attack. I know you don’t want to speculate on the — the authenticity of the attack overnight, but do you — does the U.S. have any signs to believe that the Russians are planning a new major attack?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, you know, just not going to — not going to just get ahead — I’m not going to get ahead of — I know about the conversation or that reporting. I just don’t — want to be really careful. I just don’t want to — I’m not able to confirm anything from here, and so just don’t want to speak further on that.
Q But just — just anything on false-flag operations and, you know, how — how they have evolved? We’ve continued to sort of see the administration talk about it. Any — any new details on that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, just as I said moments ago to your colleague: Look, we — we know that Russia has a history of doing this. They have a history of doing false flag. It is not unusual. It is incredibly common. I just don’t want to speculate at this time.
Q Okay. And a quick one on — on the AI meeting happening at the White House tomorrow with Microsoft and Google. I’m just sort of curious as to why the White House decided to have this meeting now. Obviously saw the RNC use AI in its — in its video to respond to the President’s election announcement. And so are you doing this because you’re — the White House is concerned about the use of AI in ‘24 or elections going forward? Can you — can you give us any details on that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, just to let folks know, as you just men- — stated, the Vice President is — Vice President Harris and senior administrations official will meet with the CEO of four American companies at the forefront of AI innovation to underscore the importance of developing safeguards that mitigate risks and potential harms, while driv- — driving responsible, trustworthy, and ethical innovation.
This builds on the considerable steps the administration has taken to date to promote responsible innovation that protects people’s rights and safety, work that includes the Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights and the AI Risk Management Framework as well.
There’s going to be a press conference this evening that’s going to discuss the administrative policy, more specifically, on AI and also provide additional information for all of you as we go into tomorrow’s meeting.
But certainly this is something that this administration has been doing. This is part of the ongoing engagement.
Now, what you’re seeing tomorrow is just going to be a conversation that the Vice President is having with CEO members, but this just builds on what we have been doing these past several months.
Q Should we think of this as a precursor to perhaps, you know, the White House asking Congress for a legislative push on AI? Or can you share any details on that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, what I will say is: This is — continues our engagement on this particular matter. We’re going to have this conversation — the VP and senior administrative officials will have the conversation with CEOs. We have had a — kind of, a comprehensive, if you — if you will, study or look into this. I’m just not going to get ahead of — of what — what will essentially come out of the administration as it relates to the AI situation.
Q Thanks. By time the President appears at a dinner tonight, it’ll have been about 48 hours since he’s had a public appearance. So, what has he been doing in that time?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: He’s been meeting with — having internal meetings in the Oval Office. I had a meeting with him earlier today with his senior — senior advisors, senior staff, talking about the issues that matter to the American people.
It’s not unusual. This is something that he does every day. And like you said, you’ll see him later this evening. There’ll be press available for — for the toast that the President is going to — is going to give.
It’s going to be, as you know, an open press avail at the top. And you’ll get to see the President then.
Q Great. And I have one more. If the Fed raises interest rates again today, as it’s poised to do, costs for Americans who are borrowing on their credit cards, mortgages, and student loans are going to go up again.
So, what does this administration have to say to working families who have already slid into debt over rising inflation and are now going to be paying more?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So here’s what I’ll say first — to the Fed. As you know, first and foremost, the Fed is an independent — is independent, and we do not comment on the — or interfere in their policies.
The President made that clear. He wanted to make sure that the Fed has — has space to — to make their decision and to make monetary policy. So I want to be very clear about that.
As it relates to inflation more broadly, this is a President that has — when it comes to his economic policy, he’s put lowering costs for the Americans a top priority. And we understand — and you hear this from the President as well — we understand that the American people — some people are still feeling the squeeze and still feeling, kind of, the pressure, if you will, of where we are with our economy.
And so, when you look at the data, there has been — there has been some — some relief and progress in fighting inflation — the consumer price index, more specifically. Inflation has fallen over the last nine months. Inflation is at the lowest rate it has been in almost two years, since May 2020. Inflation has fallen about 45 percent from its peak last year.
Wages rose last month and are higher than they were nine months ago, accounting for inflation as well. Gas prices are down about $1.40 from the peak after Putin’s invasion. And grocery prices fell last month for the first time since September 2020.
Again, we understand that there’s more work to do. The President gets that and understands that. That’s why the Inflation Reduction Act was so important, as we talk about energy costs — lowering that; as we talk about healthcare costs — lowering that. And he’ll continue to do the work to see what else we can do to help the American people.
Q Following up on — on this announcement of processing with Mexico. Right around the same time that that was announced, Mexico’s President sent a public letter to President Biden urging USAID to stop funding what he called the “opposition.” I think USAID would refer to those as anticorruption and pro-transparency groups. Any response to that request from Mexico?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have a response at this time for them — for that request.
Q Any — any response on whether — or is that the type of agreement that could be part of that broader deal on immigration? Or is there any tim- —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m — I’m not going to get into —
Q — timing at all? Because I think people would ask: If Mexico made an agreement to the U.S. — they’re asking for something on that front. Is that related?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m just not going to get into our discussions or diplomatic conversations that we have with another country.
Mexico, again, is a sovereign country that makes its own decision, and we welcome — welcome their partnership in the region on this issue.
Q Karine, thanks so much. President Zelenskyy of Ukraine told the Washington Post that he had not had conversations with anyone at the White House about those intelligence leaks. Is that true? And if so, why not?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I would have to go back to our team. I don’t actually have an answer to — to that question at this time.
What I can say, and we have said many times, is that we have been in discussion with our allies and partners about — about the situation. I would have to just check back to see when is the last time they had a conversation with President Zelenskyy. I just don’t have anything to share at this time.
Q Given the critical moment that the war is in and the fact that Ukraine is poised to potentially, sometime soon, launch its spring counteroffensive and now this incident that we started talking about at the top of the briefing with the drone, how concerned is the White House that those leaks could strain the U.S. relationship with Ukraine at this critical moment?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, we’ve been very clear. I mean, we just — we’re about to announce another — another critical security assistance to — to Ukraine. I think that shows our commitment.
And we have been very clear that we will support Ukraine as they defend their country against Russia’s invasion, and they will — and that will continue. That will not stop.
And again, we’re announcing a security assistance. I think that shows how — how much we are committed to them fighting for their freedom, fighting — the Ukrainian people fighting for their democracy.
And so, we’ve been very clear in not just security assistance and humanitarian aid and economic aid. And that will continue from here.
Q Very quickly, has anyone at the — has the President or anyone at the White House been briefed at this point on the damage assessment by the leaks?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have anything to — to preview or lay out for you at this time.
Q And then, just on the debt limit, there are conversations that have been reported about potentially invoking the 14th Amendment, which would essentially allow the President to deal with this debt limit crisis unilaterally. Can you characterize how serious those discussions are? Have they gone all the way up to the level of the President?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, we’re not going to entertain scenarios where Congress compromises the full credit — the full faith and credit of the United States.
We’ve been very clear from here, the President has been very clear that Congress must act. This is their constitutional duty to act. And we must avoid catastrophic threats to our economy. That needs to happen.
And what this will do — it will hurt the American people, cost more than 6 million jobs, and threaten Social Security, threatened Medi- — Medicare and Medicaid payments.
And so, we’re just not going to ta- — entertain scenarios.
Q So does that mean you’ve taken invoking the 14th Amendment off the table?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: What I’m saying is that I’m not going to, certainly, negotiate from here or do anything like that. We’re just not going to entertain scenarios. This is their constitutional duty.
And I’ve said this before: Republicans did this three times. They were able to do this. Democrats joined them three times in the last administration.
Q Karine, a lot of people are looking at this situation and wondering where the urgency is. Back in 2011, it took the President and congressional Republicans more than three months to reach a deal. Why does President Biden think he can reach one with Republicans in three weeks?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We’ve been very clear. Right? We’ve been very clear of what this could mean for the American people. This is their constitutional duty. When we’re talking about the spending, this is something that Republicans and Donald Trump spent already. This is — we’re talking about spending that already occurred.
And in the last administration, Democrats did the right thing and came together with Republicans, and did — and dealt with the debt ceiling three times. Three times. It is their constitutional duty.
It is what they are suppo- — they took — Congress took an oath. Right? When — if you’re a congressional member, you take an oath to the American people on what you are going to do to do the right thing, essentially. And this is part of their duty to get this done.
And so, the President has been very clear on this. We’ve been, his administration has been very clear on this. He’s going to have a meeting with them next — a week from today — with the four leaders. He’s going to again reiterate how important it is for them to move forward. And they need to put — you know, they need to deal with this immediately, deal with the debt ceiling immediately. This is something that they can do today if they choose.
And we cannot — we cannot be a deadbeat nation. We cannot. This is something that we have been able to do
in the past, 78 times since 1960 — 78 times since 1960.
We have always paid our debt. This country has always paid our debt. So what’s different now? What is different now? And that’s something for congressional Republicans to answer.
Q Thank you, Karine. I wanted to ask: The Wall Street Journal has a report out about the Biden administration having renewed direct talks with Syria to determine the fate of Austin Tice and that there have been several meetings in the Middle East with Syrian government officials.
Given that you mentioned this at the top, in terms of World Press Freedom Day, given that Austin Tice’s mother was at the dinner and President Biden recognized her, I’m hoping you can speak to this report a little bit, maybe shed some light.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I appreciate — I appreciate the question.
Look, we cannot confirm any specific meetings past or present. As you know, in general, meetings and negotiations to secure the release of wrongfully detained Americans, that is incredibly sensitive.
But I want to be clear here, as I was at the top. The President himself called on Syria to — to help us bring Austin home. That is something that the President has done. But want to be really, really careful and mindful and don’t want to confirm any specific conversation from the past or in the present.
Again, these are sensitive, sensitive issues here that we need to (inaudible).
Q Is there a status update at all on that case?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I just don’t have — I don’t have anything to share on the status of the case of Austin.
Q Okay. Second, we have a report on the DOJ nearing a decision on whether to charge President Biden’s son Hunter with tax- and gun-related violations. I wonder if the White House has any comment on this case, if it’s something the President has been following, or if he talks to Hunter about this case at all.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I would have to refer you to the Department of Justice.
Go ahead, Steven.
Q Just a follow-up on a question about Austin Tice. Debra Tice, his mother, said this week that she believes after all these years it’s time for rapprochement with Syria. What’s the President’s stance on that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Say that one more time, that last part. It’s time to?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q Yeah. What’s the President’s stance on that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, as I mentioned, the President himself called on Syria to help us bring Austin home. He has said that before.
Look, the President spoke to the pain and — that Austin’s family is going through. You heard from him directly during the — during the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. And our hearts go out to her.
We cannot even imagine — don’t even want to imagine what she’s going through every day. But the President is committed to bringing our — Americans who are wrongfully detained and held hostage home. And Austin certainly is one of those Americans that we are doing everything that we can to bring him home.
And so, that’s what the promise has — the President has promised, and that’s what his administration is continuing to work on.
Q One more press freedom question. Advocates on Twitter today have been talking a great deal about how the United States has engaged in hypocrisy by talking about how Evan Gershkovich is held in Russia on espionage charges but the United States has Espionage Act charges pending against Julian Assange. Can you respond to that criticism?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Say — what is the criticism?
Q Well, the criticism is that — the argument is that Julian Assange is a journalist who engaged in the publication of government documents. The United States is accusing him of a crime under the Espionage Act, and that, therefore, the United States is losing the moral high ground when it comes to the question of whether a reporter engages in espionage as a function of his work. So can you respond to that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I’m not going to speak to Julian Assange and that case from here.
What I will say is — and you heard directly from the President when — today in his statement on this — on this anniversary, but also during the dinner, where he talked about the freedom of the press and how important it is to protect journalists because it is part of our democracy, right? It is important to have that if we want to have a democracy, right? It is part of — part of — part of how we move forward, the — telling the facts, being able to tell the truth, and be able to — reporters to do that freely.
And so the President is going to continue to speak to that. The President is going to continue to work to make sure that these Americans who are, again, held hostage, who are wrongfully detained, come home.
And that is something that we have seen under this administration. He was — he’s been able to do more than a dozen times. And so you see this President’s commitment in just this last two years.
We’ve put forward additional tools to do that, to deal with this matter. And so that’s what I can speak to. That’s what I can speak to — the President’s commitment on this.
I’m not going to weigh in on comments about Julian Assange.
Q Thanks. On the debt ceiling, has the President ruled out supporting a short-term extension of the debt ceiling? And is that — do you think that’s something that he might talk to congressional leaders about next week?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: What he’s going to talk to congressional leaders about — and we’ve been very clear — he’s going to talk to about how it is important for them to do their constitutional duty as it relates to the debt limit and the debt ceiling.
As it relates to the budget and appropriations, we have conversations with Congress every year on how to move forward with that, how to negotiate on that. So that is a conversation, certainly, that we are willing to have.
But ag- — the debt ceiling, Congress must act. This is something that they need to do immediately. They cannot hold the American economy hostage.
I’m not going to get into any — you know, any — you know, you’re asking me about short-term. Not — certainly not going to negotiate from here or talk — speak to anything related to that.
What I know is what the President has been very clear about, which is making sure that he speaks directly to — to — to congressional members next week, on Wednesday, and let them know, lay out what is at stake. And that’s what you’re — what — that’s what they’re going to hear from him.
Q And just briefly on another subject. Some data came out showing that eighth grade test scores in U.S. History reached their lowest levels on record. You know, what can the administration do to help kids catch up, who’ve lost so much during the pandemic?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, as you just said, kids have lost so much in the pandemic. This is why, when the President walked in, he made that — he made a priority to open schools. One of the things that was important to do to make sure that our kids, who have lost so much, were able to go back in person to school, if they choose, have the resources that they needed, that — to really succeed and move forward in their education.
And we saw that, unfortunately, the pandemic had a unfortunate effect on our young — on our young people, on our kids.
And so this is, again, something that the President was committed to. That’s why he fought so hard to get the American Rescue Plan done. That’s why — which allowed him to open up schools, open up small businesses, to get shots in arms, so that we can deal with this pandemic.
Now we’re in a different place with COVID. And that’s because of what this President has done. Is there more work to do? Absolutely. But even before the pandemic, there was always more work to do as it relates to education. And so our Secretary of Education certainly is doing the work to do that.
But, yes, this is something that the President is concerned about, that the Secretary of Education is concerned about, and we’re going to continue to do the work to make sure our kids have the resources that they need.
And it goes back to what House Republicans put forward with 22 percent cut on veterans, 22 percent cut on education. That’s not how we move forward. That only hurts our kids.
Go ahead, April. And then I’ll come back.
Q Karine, two questions on deadlines. May 11th, the deadline to release or let go of the emergency declaration for COVID. With that said, what happens to those who are uninsured, when it comes to vaccines, and the fear that since the — the declaration is lifted, that people will not look at getting vaccines, thinking that COVID is over? Those two questions on that.
There’s a fear, we understand, that that can happen once — because every time — like, when you say there are no more — you don’t have to necessarily wear masks, people thought it was over. And when the President said that we’re not in the pandemic, people thought it was over. And now with the declaration being lifted.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. So, ahead of May 11th, the administration will be sharing relevant additional information to prepare federal government and also the American people as we move out of the emergency phase of the pandemic.
I was asked here yesterday about the COVID — COVID Response office and what was going to happen. And so one thing I do want to share with folks: In the omnibus budget package of fiscal year 202- — 2023, Congress called for the establishment of this office. This is the Office of Pandemic Preparedness and Response in the White House. And we are working to stand this team up — to stand up this team. So we will have that team available.
But again, we’re going to have more information.
I want to be very mindful — I hear your questions about vaccines. I want the American people to know that the COVID vaccines remain highly effective to reduce the risk of serious illness, hospitalization, and death.
You know, this announcement that we’re making is — is possible because of the historic progress that we have made over the last two years to fight COVID and ensure that people have the information and tools they need to keep themselves and their community safe.
And so, it remains highly effective. It is important for the American people to know that. We are in a different phase of COVID, as I just mentioned, and that’s why we’re able to do the announcements that we’re — we’re going to see once May 11th were — they’re going to lift, essentially, once May 11th arrive.
Q But what about the uninsured? Is there —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: And we’ll — and — and that was part of my first answer. We’ll have more information to share —
Q Is there a fund that you guys (inaudible)?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We’ll — we will have more information to share as we get closer to May 11th.
Q And last question: Looking back at the prior administration and how deadlines were met and neither side blinked, particularly Republicans, is there a fear — a real fear — that come June this will not be settled and there could be indeed defaults, payments not made to various persons of this — nations, to contractors, those who are on benefits, et cetera? Is there a real fear of that as Republicans in the past and past administration didn’t blink on issues of finances when it came to deadlines?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, that’s kind of — taking your last point first, that’s kind of what I was saying. In the last administration, Democrats put — put aside their politics and they came together with Republicans to make sure that we dealt with the debt ceiling. That is something that Democrats did.
We have never, never defaulted in our history. We’ve never done that. We’ve always paid our debt. You heard the President say this just two days ago: We are not a deadbeat nation.
So, the President is going to be very clear. We’re not going to let House Republicans take our entire economy and millions of Americans’ jobs hostage. We’re not going to allow that. That’s what you’re going to see from this President on May 9th, and we’re going to be very clear about this. This is their constitutional duty.
Of course, we have concerns. Of course, we do. That’s why we’ve been saying this over and over again that Congress must act.
We’re talking about more than 6 million jobs. We’re talking about Medicare — Medicare, Social Security. We’re talking about our seniors, our veterans. And this should not be allowed.
And so the President’s going to make that very clear to — to — to the leadership and, specifically, Speaker McCarthy when he’s here a week from today.
Q Hi, thanks. A couple questions. On the debt ceiling,
assuming obviously that Speaker McCarthy doesn’t go into the meeting next week and say, you know, “Congratulations, you’ve got a clean debt ceiling increase,” what, realistically, is the President expecting to get out of that meeting in terms of commitments, agreements, anything on the debt ceiling and budget?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: He’s going to make it clear to Speaker McCarthy what’s at stake. He’s going to make that very clear. They’re going to have a conversation. They had one earlier this year, and this is a continuation of that conversation to make very clear that Congress must act.
Q So nothing concrete in terms of —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m just — I’m not going to get into hypotheticals or ahead of what — what is going to come out of the meeting. What I can tell you is what the President is looking to do. And what the President wants to talk about is how important it is for Congress to act, how important it is for House Republicans to — to immediately deal with the debt ceiling.
And that is the conversation that the — that we have already said is going to occur. It’s going to happen. Certainly not going to get ahead of — of what is going to be discussed or what’s going to — not discussed but what’s going to come out of this discussion.
Q And — and secondly, on the end of the public health emergency, is the President planning to mark that in any way publicly? And, in his mind, does this effectively kind of mean the end of the COVID epidemic, at least in the U.S.?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, what we’ve said: We’re in a different phase of this pandemic. The reason why we’re able to — to do the public health emergency and make the announcement that we have made on the COVID vac- — vaccine is because of the work that this administration has done. Period. Because of this leadership that the President has — has been able to do. Period.
And that’s because, again, the American Rescue Plan, what he was able to do on day one — how he wanted to make sure that Americans were vaccinated, how he wanted to make sure that our schools were open, small businesses were opened, that the economy got back on its feet. And you see that with the economy, currently: 12.6 million jobs created. That’s important.
And it’s — and we’re going to continue that work. You see that with his environmental — excuse me, his economic policies that he’s put forward, his economic legislation that have been passed with the help of Democrats in Congress.
And so, look, we’re in a different phase. And — and it’s because of the work that this President has done.
Q So, should we expect the President to mark that in any way?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, you asked — I — I didn’t answer that question. Don’t — don’t have anything to — to lay out for you on any type of event to mark that.
Q Thanks, Karine. The Fed just raised interest rates again. And you mentioned that inflation has come down, but it’s still stuck at 5 percent. Is the — is the President frustrated that inflation isn’t coming down more quickly?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The President — not going to comment on the — on the Fed and its policy decision. They’re independent. We’re going to respect that, give them the space to make their monetary policy decisions, as they have done under this administration for the last two years. So I want to be very clear on that.
The President is working every day to — to make sure that we do what we can and — and meet the American people where they are on lowering costs. That’s why he took some historic actions. That’s why we were able to do the Inflation Reduction Act. That’s why we were able to lower gas prices as Russia — as President Putin started this aggression on Ukraine in this war. And so we’ll continue to do that.
Let’s not forget what — the lowering costs for families, what we’ve done. We’ve lowered prescription drug costs, capping insulin at $35 a month for seniors; allowing Medicare to negotiate; lower power — helping lower energy bills. That’s important. That’s what we have been able to do as an administration.
Where MAGA Republicans, they’re doing the opposite. They’re gutting programs that lower co- — lowering cost; take — take our economy hostage with the default. That’s what they’re threatening. Bring back failed trickle-down economy. That’s not what the President believes. He believes on building an economy from the bottom up and middle out.
So we’re doing the work that — that — that we believe needs to be done. We always understand there’s more work to be done. And — and, again, I’ve laid this out earlier. Inflation has fallen over the last nine months. That’s important. We saw that in the CPI data.
And — and so, do we — we need to do more work on this? Yes. But inflation has also fallen 45 percent from its peak last year. And that is because of the work that this President has done because of his economic policy plan.
Q What’s more important to the White House as this point: to keep bringing down inflation or to prevent more economic slowdown?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t think it’s one or the other. I think the President understands that when he’s President, he has multiple things that he needs to — he — he needs to deal with.
We have said that we see the economy moving towards a transition of more stable and steady growth. We see that in — in the data. We see that in our jobs data that we saw just last — just — just last month. And so we’re seeing that. We believe that that’s where we’re headed.
But, of course, inflation is a — one of the most important things that Americans care about is what — what we’re doing to lower costs. And so that’s one of the number one things that you see when it comes to the President’s economic plan is making sure that he’s doing everything that his administration can to do just that.
Go ahead, Karen.
Q Thanks, Karine. Before we came out here, there was a shooting in Atlanta. Police are searching for a suspect. There’s one dead and at least four injured now. Has the President been briefed on this? What can you tell us?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I can confirm that the President and the Vice President is aware of what’s — what occurred — the Atlanta shooting. So I can certainly confirm that.
Q Okay. And to go back to the nation’s report card that you talked about, just to underline some of the data: 13 percent of students, it found, in eighth grade performed at or above the proficient level in U.S. history. In civics/government, it was only 22 percent.
Beyond the pandemic closures that you talked about in your answer, just how concerned is the White House about what young Americans are learning about history and government right now?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, look, we’ve spoken to that before, how it is important for — look, it is important for our kids to learn about the history of this country — the — the amazing, good part of it and also the part that we have to learn from. We’ve said that before.
So, yes, it is — it is a concern to us. But again, we are — our kids’ education is a priority for this President, as you know, you heard him say, because, you know, Dr. Biden, as well, is a teacher and educator. So that is — that is — so you have two — two people in the administration that truly care about our kids and their education and how they’re moving forward.
And you have a Secretary of Education that’s very much focused on this and has made our kids a priority in the past two years and will continue to do that.
Q Two scheduling questions. The President said in March that he was going to visit East Palestine, Ohio, at some point to review the recovery from the tai- — train derailment. Any update on that?
And tomorrow, is the President holding any events for a National Day of Prayer?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Events for National Day of Prayer?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have in front of me what the President is going to be doing tomorrow. I’m trying to think what tomorrow is. We’ll certainly share that in the next couple of hours, of what his day will look like tomorrow. So you all will have that, as you normally do. So that is the normal here.
So, as the President said, he will go to East Palestine. I don’t have any travel plans at this time to announce from here.
Just to remind all — everyone, the President — at his direction, federal teams have been on the ground in East Palestine to support response efforts and hold
North — North [Norfolk] Southern accountable.
They went door to door to check on families. They were monitoring the air. They — they’re investigating the cause of derailment. And the Department of Justice is suing Norfolk Southern to seek damages and hold them accountable. And that has been our — our commitment to the community of East Palestine and will continue to be.
And when we have travel to share, certainly we’ll do that.
Q Thanks, Karine. Back in March, the President said, after the SVB collapse, that the banking system is safe. He made similar comments after the latest bank failed earlier this week. So I’m wondering why the American people should trust those reassurances if it’s happening repeatedly now?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, due to our actions, because of what the President has done, because of the — of the direction of the President, Americans can be confident that the deposits are safe and sound, and banks have the access to resources to meet depositors’ demand.
In fact, Treasury has seen deposit flows stabilize in regional banks. The banking system is more resilient than it was in 2008 when we saw the financial crisis. And thanks to the tough requirements the Obama-Biden administration put in place, banks have more capital, depositors have more protection, regulators have the tools.
And so, we’ve taken decisive and forceful actions to restore the confidence, to protect depositors, to keep financial systems safe, and not protect investors but to not risk taxpayers’ dollars. And that is what you’ve seen from us from the last couple of weeks.
Q So, given that, how seriously is the White House considering warnings that there could be other problems ahead in the banking sector?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, what I can tell you is that the FDIC is going to continue to monitor the situation. And that’s what I — I can — I can share. We have taken forceful actions, decisive actions, to make sure that taxpayer dollars are protected, to make sure that we give confidence to the American people. And that is something that you’re going to continue to see.
The President has asked Congress to take action. So we’ve been very clear. And he has called on regulators to reverse a series of steps taken during — during the prior administration.
And that is something that just didn’t start — that — the asking regulators to take action, that didn’t start just a couple of weeks ago. That started through — or very early in his administration.
Q And then, thirdly and lastly, New York became the first state to ban natural gas in new buildings, essentially, starting in 2026. Does the President support these types of policies at the state level?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, this is the first I’m hearing about that, so I don’t have any comment for you on that at this time.
Q Thank you, Karine. Is the — there’s been so much anticipation ahead of next week’s meeting on the debt — debt ceiling. The President always says he likes to negotiate face to face. Would he commit to having as many meetings as it takes? What we’re doing is talking about this one day, which is a week away.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have any further — we just got to get through the first meeting first —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — which is a week from today, before we add on any other meetings. And that is going to be up to the President to decide.
And what I can say: He’s going to make it very clear to Speaker McCarthy that they need to act. They must act. It is their constitutional duty to deal with the debt limit.
Q Okay. And here, a week ago, he announced his re-election campaign. And this is not a Hatch Act question. Don’t worry.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Are you sure? (Laughter.)
Q Yeah, this is a scheduling — this is scheduling. It’s a scheduling question.
So, you know, that was — that was a week ago. I’m just wondering, he’s got his main job, which is being President. He’s going to be, you know, more and more doing his other job, which is trying to become President again.
Is — will he travel a lot more than he’s been doing in the past at all —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I —
Q — would you think?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We don’t have anything to share at this time on his travel — whether political or official. Just don’t — I’m not going to share — anything to share at this time.
Go ahead, Akayla.
Q Yeah, another question on the Atlanta shooting. I wonder if the President is frustrated by the frequency at which we’re continuing to see these mass shootings despite that gun safety law that was passed last year. And does he think the full effect of that law has really started to show?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, a couple of things. As we — as was mentioned, we were coming out here, the news was breaking. So I want to be very clear, we’re monitoring the situa- — situation. We’ll have more information.
It’s an ongoing, very fluid situation, as far as I understand; I don’t know what else has occurred since we’ve been out here.
I want to tell the public that we urge them to heed guidance from officials and keep themselves safe. Please keep yourself safe as this — as the situation continues.
So just want to be very clear about this, and don’t want to speak to this directly, because we just don’t know exactly what is — what is occur- — I mean, I know there’s a shooting, but we don’t have all of the information. It’s very fluid.
So, look, is the President frustrated about what we’re seeing in our communities, in our schools, and our churches — this epidemic that we’ve seen — this gun violence epidemic? And this is a — yes, of course, he’s frustrated.
This is a President that has taken historic actions. The first two years — executive actions signed, as you mentioned to me — a piece of legislation that was bipartisan. And it was the first legislation that we had seen in 30 years to deal with this issue.
But we know that more needs to be done. We know that Congress needs to take more steps to deal with the violence that we’re seeing, again, in our communities, our schools, our churches, which just should not be. It should not be.
American people should be able to feel free to go to — to go to — into a grocery store, to go a church. Our kids should feel free and feel safe, and our teachers, administrators should feel safe to go into a school.
And right now, we’re seeing weapons of war on our streets, which should not be — which should not be.
And so, we’ve been very clear about Congress needing to act. And I think we’re all frustrated. I think there’s parents out there who are frustrated. There are Americans out there who are frustrated and who want to see an assault weapons ban, which reduced mass shootings when — when — something that the President led on in 1994.
We want to see commonsense gun law reform, whether it’s requiring background checks on all gun sales, requiring safe storage of guns, eliminating immunity for gun manufacturers who knowingly put weapons of war, again, on our streets. These are the things that we want to see Congress act on. And so, we’re going to continue to call on them to do so.
Q Julie Su, the nominee — current Labor Secretary, has yet to be confirmed by the Senate and could face some roadblocks ahead. What is the administration’s level of commitment to Su as the nominee if the votes aren’t there?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, we are committed to Julie Su’s confirmation process. She’s met with dozens of senators on both sides of the aisle, and we’re working very hard every day for every vote. That is certainly something that she’s doing, certainly something that we’re doing on her behalf. And we’re feeling confident about her process and looking forward to the floor consideration in the near future.
I would just remind you all, as I’ve said before from here: When she was confirmed for deputy secretary, she got — she got all Democrats in the Senate. And so, we’re going to continue.
As I said, she’s met with both — senators from both sides of the aisle, and we certainly feel — are feeling confidence in this process.
AIDE: We have five minutes left.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, okay.
Let me call some more people in the back. Go ahead, sir.
Q Thank you, Karine. Question on the Press Freedom Day. So on the anniversary — at the same time, we see China just announced (inaudible) its counterespionage law, which worries a lot of journalists, also (inaudible) investors.
Currently, we have at least 127 journalist detained in China, including three foreign reporters detained on espionage charge. What is the administration take on China suppressing even more freedom of speech? Is the press freedom part of the conversation between U.S. and China?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, what I can say and — is that we are doing everything that we can through our diplomacy and foreign assistance to support journalists; to help them keep them safe, hold — hold accountable the autocrats and their enablers who continue to repress a free, independent media. And that’s what you can count on from this administration. That’s what the President made very clear in his statement today but also his remarks that you heard directly from the President just this past Satur- — Saturday. And that’s why we’re lifting up this day, this 30th — 30th World Press Freedom Day.
And so, we are committed. We have put forth tools to deal with ways to continue to make sure that we’re protecting wrongfully detained Americans who are held hostage. You heard us announce just — some tools just last week. And we’ll continue to do everything that we can.
Again, I said this earlier: This is an administration that has brought home more than a dozen wrongfully detained Americans held hostage in his first two — two years of this administration. So that shows our commitment. And we’ll continue to work towards that.
Okay. Go ahead, Naomi.
Q Thank you. So, back to interest rates. The Fed also signaled that it could be the last increase after more than a year of hikes. Should we read this as potentially there being a stronger likelihood of a recession in the coming months?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m not going to get into the Fed’s policies, monetary policies, from here. They are an independent agency. We are giving them the space to make decision on monetary policies. We are not going to interfere in their policies. So, I’m not just — I’m not going to get into a hypothetical from here.
Okay. Sir, in the back. Go ahead.
Q Karine, when it comes to immigration, obviously the administration wants immigration reform, but why hasn’t the President brought in congressional leaders and tried to show leadership and come up with some kind of compromise that could pass?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We’ve shown leadership. We’ve shown leadership on day one — on day one — by putting forth a piece of legislation to deal with comprehensive immigration reform.
That’s the leadership that this President showed on day one to show his commitment to — to making sure we have a safe and orderly and humane way to deal with immigration, to fix a — to fix a system that is certainly broken and has been broken for some time.
So that is the President’s leadership. We’re using the tools that we have because Congress doesn’t want to help. We’ve — we’ve called out Congress, and we’ve spoken to Congress many times. Our — our — certainly our Office of Leg Affairs and other departments here in the White House certainly have had those conversations over the last two years. And the President has been very vocal.
But we have to — have to use the tools that we have in front of us to deal with this issue. And — and we’ve continued to call on Congress to act — the President has, members of his administration has, I have — numerous times.
And now we’re going to do what we can from here to make sure we do this in a way that’s safe, in a way that’s orderly, in a way that’s humane.
Q And what report card would you give the Vice President for her handling of the root causes of migration in Central America?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I’ve learned from my predecessor to never fall into that trap — (laughter) — of giving — giving — giving grades.
What we can say from here is that the President appreciates and — and has been very impressed by her — by her partnership in this administration. He sees her as a partner. And they will continue to — to work in that way in the next — as we move forward, to be very careful here.
Trying to call on some people I haven’t called on in a while. Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Karine. I was just curious: The meeting next week with congressional leaders, will that just be for the President and four lawmakers in the room, or will there be staff involved? And what can you say about — like, has staff been reaching out sort of behind the scenes ahead of this meeting to prepare?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I’m not going to get into the manifest of who’s going to be in the meeting next week. I will certainly — I will certainly — I think I said this, and I think we’ve — we’ve gotten some confirmation of attendance, but certainly leave it to the — to the offices of the specific principal attendance. But certainly not going to get into a manifest of who’s going to be in the room at this time. We still have a couple of days to go before the meeting happens.
I think I’m being pulled. Is that it? All right. Thanks, everybody. See you tomorrow.
2:31 P.M. EDT