Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, April 27, 2022

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Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, April 27, 2022

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room 3:07 P.M. EDT MS. PSAKI:  Hi, everyone.  Okay, I have no toppers today.  Don’t be so disappoint

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

3:07 P.M. EDT
 
MS. PSAKI:  Hi, everyone.  Okay, I have no toppers today.  Don’t be so disappointed.  And I know we have a hard out for some people to gather, so we will all keep you updated on when that needs to happen.
 
But, Zeke, why don’t you kick us off?
 
Q    Thanks, Jen.  Just two quick.  The President put out a statement this morning on the prisoner swap for the release of Trevor Reed.  And he called it — said there were some “difficult decisions” that he had to make, involved.  Can you just elaborate on what he meant?  Is there a concern that this sort of arrangement incentivizes other countries to wrongfully detain Americans?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, let me say that it’s a huge moment today that speaks to President Biden’s commitment to bring home Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained around the world.  And he has been clear since the beginning of this administration that he is committed to doing exactly that: to bringing Americans home.
 
He’s brought home Americans from Venezuela, from Afghanistan, from Haiti, from Burma, and now, today, from Russia.
 
And Trevor’s freedom is the result of months and months of hard, careful work across the U.S. government.
 
Now I’ll get to your question.  When he referenced the tough decision in his statement this morning, he was referencing the decision to commute the sentence of Konstantin Yaroshenko.  I would emphasize that this individual had already served the majority of his prison sentence for a nonviolent drug crime.  And our overriding priority here was the safe return of Trevor Reed, knowing not only had he been held against his will for too long, but that his health condition required urgent treatment.  He’s going to be able to not only be reunited — united — reunited with his family, but to receive the treatment he needed from the United States.
 
So, again, our objective is to bring all Americans who are detained, who are held, who are away from their families home from overseas.  But I’m not going to be able to preview for you what processes or approaches we’re going to take for those moving forward.
 
Q    And is there a concern that now it’s not just detaining Americans but wrongfully mistreating them allows — a lot of them get seriously ill — it gives other countries leverage over the United States in terms of creating another opportunity, such as this, for this sort of prisoner swap?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, unfortunately, Zeke, you know, there are Americans who are held in other places around the world who we are still working to bring home.  And that has been the case long before the President and, importantly, our hostage negotiator took the steps to bring Trevor Reed home.
 
So I — this has been going on for a long time, I guess is my — is my larger point.  And our effort and our objective was to take steps that we needed to take to bring him home, knowing his health conditions and knowing he’s been held for too long.
 
Q    And a slightly different topic: Russia yesterday effectively cutting out that — cutting off natural gas to Poland and Bulgaria.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.
 
Q    What’s the White House response to that?  And are there additional steps the U.S. government is taking to reassure its European allies that — maybe not so much now, but certainly when the weather turns later this year — that they will have the energy supplies they need?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Well, unfortunately, this is not — this is the type of step, the type of almost weaponizing energy supplies that we had predicted that Russia could take in this conflict.  That is why we, of course, have been in touch with Europe, including over the — with these countries — including over the last 24 hours, with leaders in Poland and Bulgaria. 
 
And we have been working for some time now, for months, with partners around the world to diversify natural gas supply to Europe to — in anticipation of and to also address near-term needs and replace volumes that would otherwise come from Russia.
 
I would note that last month, in advance of this, the President launched a task force with the EU to target additional LNG volumes for Europe, including Poland and Bulgaria.  This will help replace, over time, Russian gas to Europe, decreasing Europe’s dependence on Russia and Putin’s ability to use energy to coerce Europe.
 
I would also note that Poland and Polish leaders have said they have the capacity through the reserves and other imports right now, for the moment.  And Bulgaria has said it is also looking at other import actions.
 
So we are working and we have been working to address over the long term.  We have been in touch with these leaders over the last 24 hours.  And I would also note what they’ve said about what their capacities are for the current short term.
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Thanks, Jen.  Has the President been in touch with or does he plan to reach out to Paul Whelan’s family, Brittney Griner’s family, any of the other families who have loved ones detained in Russia?
 
MS. PSAKI:  We have, of course, been in touch with their families over the course of time.  I’m not going to detail those conversations further.
 
Q    But Paul Whelan’s brother, David Whelan, put out a statement today.  He said, “If this case required difficult decisions that the President doesn’t take lightly, how difficult are the decisions he faces to release Paul?”  What’s your response to the Whelan family?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Our response is that we are going to continue to do, the President is going to continue to do, our State Department officials and negotiators are going to continue to do everything they can to bring Paul Whelan home.
 
Q    If I could just ask one more follow-up: The President, of course, met with Reed’s family here at the White House.  Can you talk about the personal impact that that meeting might have had?  Did it — did he leave that meeting with a sense of urgency — a renewed sense of urgency to get this done?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I would say the President has had a sense of urgency about bringing Americans home long before that meeting.  Of course, he enjoyed that meeting he had with them.  He also spoke with them on the phone when he went and traveled to Texas.  And again, I know he was intending to reach out to them this morning as well.
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    On the economy, we have a GDP print that’s coming out tomorrow that’s expected to show fairly marginal growth.  There’s increasing expectations from banks, predictions of — that we’re entering a recession. 
 
Your budget plan had a focus on budget deficit reduction, as opposed to fiscal stimulus.  Is there any plan to change that as we see the threat of a recession looming?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, as I’ve said before on the recession question: Obviously, we look closely at economic data.  We continue to believe that there are — there are strong data in the economy, whether it’s record job growth, whether it is the current unemployment rate.  And that is a result of the actions of the President. 
 
I would note on the GDP expectations for tomorrow: As you noted, the market expectations and other analysts out there do expect the growth to be slower in quarter one, which is what the data is being reported out tomorrow, than in quarter — the fourth quarter of last year. 
 
This largely reflects the str- — very strong pace of growth in the fourth quarter.  When taken together, growth over the two quarters is expected to be at a solid pace if we look at it over time, which is how we look at data. 
 
And looking under the hood, the slowdown relative to quarter four is mainly for technical reasons like the change in inventory.  So, last quarter, companies built up their inventories very quickly.  And growth in inventories are expected to be slower, though still positive, this quarter.
 
This is something that has been pointed out — or this trend or these reasoning — this reasoning, I should say, has been pointed out by a range of outside economists and forecasters, including former NEC Director Jason Furman.
 
Q    A quick follow-up just on inflation: There’s been some numbers that have shown that, you know, the monthly interest payment that somebody pays when they take out a mortgage has basically doubled over the past year. 
 
You’ve talked about what you’re doing on meat prices.  But if you look at the grocery bill, pretty widely there are many categories where we’re seeing double-digit inflation: flour, coffee, fruit. 
 
Is there any strategy to deal with some of these other areas where we’re seeing, kind of, broad-based inflation?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say the President’s plan to address inflation or address causes or costs as they’ve gone up for the American people has many different components. 
    
Obviously, there’s an important purview that the Federal Reserve has, and they’ve indicated their plans to recalibrate.  We support that — that effort or steps they intend to take.  And obviously, they have purview over and they’ve predicted that inflation will come down and moderate before the end of the year. 
    
But how the American people experience inflation is costs, as you noted, whether it’s at the grocery store or other costs on their pocketbook.  And the President has taken a number of steps to address costs, even extending the pause on student loans, which is something he did just a few weeks ago; the steps to fix the “family glitch” in the Affordable Care Act so more people would be eligible for lower-cost healthcare; and continuing conversations that are happening on Capitol Hill right now on his proposals to lower costs on childcare, healthcare, the cost of prescription drugs.  These are all areas that impact and will help families as we’re working to bring costs down. 
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    The President told Trevor Reed’s family that he wanted to call them in the middle of the night last night but didn’t want to jinx the release of their son.  Can you tell us more about what’s been happening behind closed doors for the last, you know, 12 or 24 hours regarding this release?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  And, you know, I think what the President was referring to — you know, and I’ve fortunately — because it’s a part of history and a great day, obviously, when you bring an American home, and the President has, of course, been a part of many of these in a much higher and more important role — is just — there’s a lot of sensitivity, as you all know, around the period of time when individuals are in transit — right? — when they are being brought to a third country.
 
As we’ve noted, you know, we are very grateful to Turkey for allowing the exchange to take place in their country.  So, basically, over the last 24 hours — one, as I noted, this — this had been happening over several months. 
 
So, Roger Carstens, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, and his team and many others have been — had been negotiating and engaging in this.  And the exchange took place in Turkey during the early hours of the morning, East Coast time.  So I think what the President was referring to was his understanding and knowledge that that would be happening but not wanting to put anyone in a position of putting that at risk, even people who are excited and joyful and looking forward to the news.
 
And, you know, then once they got to Turkey and they were safely on a plane on their way back, we were able to obviously make notifications and phone calls and also put out this statement from the President to make all of you aware.
 
Q    Were any other conditions agreed to for Trevor Reed’s release, besides the release of this Russian?
 
MS. PSAKI:  This was the discussion about one issue and one topic, and that was the release of Trevor Reed.
 
Q    But were there any other conditions agreed to besides releasing the Russian in exchange for Trevor Reed?
 
MS. PSAKI:  There is no other condition.  There were no other conditions that I’m aware of.
 
Q    And what does the White House read into Russia’s willingness to release Trevor Reed now, in the middle of this invasion of Ukraine?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Look, I think the release of Trevor Reed, him returning home to his family, receiving the healthcare that he has long needed, does not change our approach or view, opposition, or the President’s intention to put forward a package in the coming days to help continue to support the Ukrainians.
 
In terms of what they mean or how they assess it, I would leave it to them to speak to that.
 
Q    But does it make anyone here at the White House more optimistic about what could be ahead, or does it have nothing to do with anything —
 
MS. PSAKI:  This is — was about one issue and topic, and I don’t think we should read into it further.
 
Q    Can we go toward the back?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah, we can come to the back in a moment.  Go ahead, Weijia.
 
Q    Thanks, Jen.  To follow up on MaryAlice’s question, during an interview this morning, Trevor Reed’s parents said they believed that personal meeting with the President was the, quote, “tipping point,” that it made all the difference.  Is that true?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, look, I would say anytime that you meet with — a President meets with or any official from the government meets with the parents or family members of someone who’s being detained, that impacts them personally.
 
But this had been negotiated — in negotiations for months.
 
Q    I spoke with David Whelan today, and he is concerned that Reed’s release now narrows the chances for his brother’s release, because Russia obviously was — you know, wanted Yaroshenko’s release for years now, and now that it’s happened, he worries that that was a major concession that the U.S. no longer has.  So what do you say to the Whelan family?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, we would say we will continue to advocate for the immediate, unconditional of Paul Whelan at every opportunity.  And using wrongful detention as a bargaining chip represents a threat to the safety of everyone traveling, working, and living abroad.  We obviously oppose this practice anywhere, and we are going to continue to do everything we can to bring him home.
 
Q    They are thrilled, obviously, about Trevor Reed’s release, but they can’t help but have some questions about why Paul Whelan, who’s been detained in Russia longer than Trevor Reed, is not home.  Can you explain that?  And did Reed’s health, as you mentioned, have anything to do with it?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Obviously, our objective continues to be to bring Paul Whelan home and any American who is not with their family and is being detained overseas.  But I’m just not going to get into more details because I want to maintain the protection of our process.
 
Q    And then, on a separate topic: Yesterday, Dr. Jha said that people who are at high risk for developing a severe case of COVID are eligible for Paxlovid.  And the Vice President just got her second booster shot.  She has no symptoms.  Can you help us understand why she’s taking it?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, he also said, which you didn’t include in your summary there, but — that you should consult with your doctor, and she consulted with her doctor.  She has been given Paxlovid.  That’s something many Americans may be eligible for; they should also consult with their doctor.
 
And I think, overall, we’re just grateful that this is an approved drug on the market that many people can benefit from, including the Vice President.
 
Okay, thank you.
 
Q    Go ahead in the back.  In the way back.  Way back.
 
Q    Eleven years ago, Japan had a terrible disaster and the U.S. launched a program most people have probably forgotten called Operation Tomodachi.  Twenty-five thousand American military and ten thousand volunteers came from Japan to help.  And one of those that came was President Biden.  I’m wondering if on this upcoming trip he’ll be coming back to that area for a short visit.
 
And while we’re waiting for advisement, is it possible to do an interview with you?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Oh — okay.  (Laughter.)  You often come with an interview request.  I should know ahead of time.
 
I will just note I expect we will have more details on the President’s travel to Asia — something he is clearly looking forward to since he’s spoken about it publicly — soon, in the coming days.  But in advance of that, I’m just not going to have much more to preview for all of you.
 
Okay, go ahead.  Go ahead — go ahead.
 
Q    Thanks, Jen.  Yesterday, after the Vice President announced that she tested positive, the usual people on the Internet and elsewhere who don’t like vaccines, who don’t think COVID (inaudible), immediately started with the, “Well, she would have been fine even if she hadn’t gotten the vaccine.”
 
It seems like every time there’s a high-profile announcement that someone has gotten COVID — be it a member of Congress, AG Garland, people at the Gridiron dinner — people take it as proof that vaccines don’t work. 
 
So, what about the White House’s messaging could be better on that, given that 234,000 Americans died?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.  Well, first, I would say the truth, is — which is, I think, why you’re asking me this question — is quite the contrary. 
 
I mean, the Vice President is continuing to carry out her duties, as the Vice President of the United States, from home, engaging in meetings, policy discussions — I’m sure you’ll see her in some capacity publicly from home as well — because she is double boosted and she has taken the steps to protect herself, like we have continued to recommend other Americans do.
 
So, I would note that while the vaccine — the reason to take the vaccine is, of course, because it can protect you from severe death — from death, from severe illness — “severe death,” that was a little intense how I said that — (laughter) — from death or severe illness, and it — by multitudes of numbers.
 
And, you know, we’re going to continue — and if you are eligible for a booster as she was, as the President was, we recommend you get that for a second booster, because it can put you in a position where even if you get COVID, you’re able to still not — experience minimal symptoms or no symptoms, like the Vice President has been, and to continue to go about daily life the best you can while you’re quarantining. 
 
Go ahead, Tam.
 
Q    Yep, thank you.  Dr. Fauci said on the PBS NewsHour last night, quote, “This country is out of the pandemic phase of COVID.”  What phase are we in right now?  And also, if we are out of the pandemic phase, why are emergency measures still in place?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, what Dr. Fauci was saying is that we are in a different phase of this pandemic, and that’s absolutely true.  Last month, the President announced a plan for how we can move forward safely while staying on our front foot against COVID.  As he pointed out, nationwide, cases are relatively low — far below the 900,000 cases a day we saw during the Omicron surge. 
 
Even as we’ve seen upticks, hospitalizations are about — at about the lowest level since the pandemic, and deaths are declining.  So, there’s no question that we are in a moment — a different moment in our fight against COVID. 
 
But we also know COVID isn’t over and the pandemic isn’t over.  And what Dr. Jha said yesterday also is that — different doctor, I realize, but I just want to reference him since he was just here — is that cases are low, driven by the extremely — while cases are low, cases — while cases — while low, cases are still — you know, we’ve seen an uptick in some places driven by the extremely transmissible BA.2 variant. 
 
We know the risk of potential sur- — surges, even as a potential new variant or subvariant remains.  So, different phase, because we’re at a much lower level of hospitalizations, of deaths, and even, nationwide, of cases.  But we are still seeing people get very sick from COVID and cases of COVID, and we have measures that we should all continue to take to protect ourselves. 
 
Q    Just a couple of very quick, short other questions.  Daleep Singh is reportedly taking a leave of absence.  Can you confirm that — when he’ll be gone and what that means for the sanctions work that he’s doing that is very important right now?
 
MS. PSAKI:  It is very important.  He’s a very important member of the national security team.  I don’t have any details or any confirmation of his plans. 
 
What I would note, and if Daleep were here — and we’ll invite him — he would note is that he has an incredible team he works with who helps put together these sanctions package, help — packages — helps implementation, helps coordinate diplomatically.  And we will — there are a number of people who will continue to do that work.
 
Q    And when are you sending the funding request for Ukraine funding up to the Hill?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, the President said last week it will be this week.  So, there’s only two days left of this week.  As soon as tomorrow, but in the next two days. 
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Indonesia decided to invite President Zelenskyy to the G20.  I’m wondering if you have a reaction to that, but also what it says about progress that the U.S. might be making behind the scenes, hoping to expel Russia from that forum, and if the decision to invite President Zelenskyy has informed and the President can confirm that he’s going to now attend the summit. 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, we’ve seen the reports that President Zelenskyy has been invited to the G20.  And we certainly welcome that.  As you know, President Biden said just last month that Ukraine should be able to participate. 
 
But we don’t have further confirmation beyond the news reports, which we certainly think are positive. 
    
And as he also said last month — which is, of course, why you’re asking me — he doesn’t think Russia should be invited, but, ultimately, it’s a decision for the G20. 
 
So, we don’t have any new announcements at this point.  We will continue to engage.  And we’ve reached out, of course, to Indonesia, as you noted, who’s hosting the summit.  But we don’t have any other additional details. 
 
It’s six months away.  Typically, the President does attend, but I don’t have anything to confirm about a trip six months away at this point.
 
Q    Just a quick one on Ukraine.  There’s been questions about why the U.S. hasn’t suspended steel tariffs on Ukrainian steel coming in.  Do you have any information about why we’ve maintained those tariffs, considering everything with (inaudible)?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  I — obviously, there are a range of considerations to provide not only direct assistance but economic relief to the Ukrainians under consideration.  I don’t have anything to preview at this point in time. 

I’ll go to Kristen and then Jacqui, and then I’ll go to the back.

Go ahead.

Q    Jen, thank you so much.  Following up on Tam, we actually just reported that the White House is tomorrow — as soon as tomorrow — going to request the supplemental, and that will — it will be through the end of the fiscal year, and that it’s going to be “massive.” 

Can you help characterize how much money will the administration be asking for?  Will we hear from the President on this?
 
MS. PSAKI:  So, let me try to answer all those questions, and then tell me if I don’t.  I can confirm “as soon as tomorrow” — only two days left in this week, but it will definitely be this week that we will send up the supplemental.

In terms of the President’s schedule, his role, I have nothing to preview at this point in time.  As soon as anything is finalized, if he’s going to speak publicly, we will announce that to all of you or let you all know.

In terms of the length or the size, I don’t have a number for you at this point in time.  But there is plans for this to be a proposal to go through the fiscal year.  And it will include, as our past packages have included, security or military assistance, humanitarian, economic assistance, given those, in our view, will help address a range of the needs the Ukrainians have.

Q    Thank you.  You did answer all of my question. 
 
Obviously, there is a renewed push on Capitol Hill and behind the scenes here at the White House for some revised version of the Build Back Better plan — a scaled-back version.

When was the last time President Biden spoke with Senator Manchin in earnest about what he could sign off on?

MS. PSAKI:  So, we’re just not going to detail that, per the President’s request, from here — any conversations he has with Senator Manchin or other senators — just to protect those conversations.
 
Q    Fair enough.  Can you characterize, though — are the negotiations happening in earnest?  Are there real talks going on about specific things that Senator Manchin, that the White House could agree to?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I would — I would tell you — and I’m sure your colleagues on the Hill, now that all these senators are back, can confirm this with a number of them right now, or today — that there are still a great deal of interest, passion in moving forward with the President’s plan to lower costs for Americans and a lot of senators who would like to see this move forward.

Q    Secretary Mayorkas is getting a real grilling on Capitol Hill today, particularly about Title 42 and the plans that are in place to deal with it.  DHS has acknowledged that a surge would put a substantial strain on resources. 

Now, obviously, DHS announced this six-point, 20-page plan.  But given that strain that DHS is anticipating, why should the American people have confidence that you’ll be able to deal with that surge of migrants if Title 42 is lifted?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, I would say, just as a reminder: It is a health authority, not an immigration plan or an immigration authority, and it’s not meant to be a replacement of.  So the determination about where we stand and to lift it was made by the CDC.

Just to note the six-point plan that Secretary Mayorkas put out and talked about today, or over the last 24 hours, includes six pillars: surging resources, including personnel, transportation, medical support; enhancing CBP processing efficiency and moving with deliberate speed to mitigate potential overcrowding; administering consequences for unlawful entry; bolstering the capacity of nongovernmental organizations to receive noncitizens; targeting and disrupting the transnational criminal organization and smugglers; and deterring irregular migration. 

So, what he talked about today is exactly what his preparedness plan — that’s been in the works and in the planning for months — would do.  And they have talked about the need, potentially, for more resources to make that happen.
 
Q    And just to be very clear, and some Democrats have said this: Does the plan — will the plan be in place before Title 42 is lifted?
 
MS. PSAKI:  That is exactly what the preparedness and implementation plan is intended to do.
 
Q    Okay.

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead, Jacqui.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  Dr. Fauci said that he’s not going to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, citing COVID concerns.  Obviously, he’s the President’s chief medical advisor.  As far as we know, the President is still planning to attend.  How should people understand Dr. Fauci’s decision versus the President’s decision?  And is there any concern that the President would be seen as not following the science in some way?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, I would note and respect everyone’s privacy, including Dr. Fauci’s, as much as he’s very much a public figure.  But as you all know, he can speak for himself and his decisions.  And every individual will make their own decisions about whether they attend this event, other events, whether they wear a mask at it or not.

Obviously, the White House Correspondents’ Association is requiring same-day testing.  That’s a — that’s a decision they have made.  The President outlined, as you all know, a 100-page plan in March intended to position us to go back to our more normal routines.  But in that, that requires making risk assessments and decisions about what you’re going to do and what you’re going to attend and be a part of, as we all do every day. 

Today, the President felt it was very important to be at and speak at the memorial service for a diplomatic icon — Secretary Madeleine Albright.  He made the decision to do that, despite the fact that there were hundreds if not thousands of people there. 

He has made the decision he wants to attend, in a safe way, the White House Correspondents’ Dinner to show his support — showcase his support for the free press, for the work of all of you, for the work of your colleagues around the world to not only share accurate information about COVID but also report on the war in Ukraine and all of the work that happens every single day. 

That does stand in stark contrast to his predecessor, who not only questioned the legitimacy of the press on a nearly dai– — daily basis, but also never attended the dinner, I don’t believe.

So, he felt that was important and made a risk assessment to do that in consultation with his doctors and healthcare team. 

I would note that we also take additional precautions and steps.  I would expect that he may wear a mask when he’s not speaking.  I’ll wear a mask when I’m at the dinner, in all likelihood.  And we also took steps, including the fact that he’s not attending for the eating portion of the dinner and he’ll be there for the program, which includes a number of speakers, the presentation of scholarships, as you know, and, of course, his speaking and his roasting, where he will be “on the menu,” as he likes to say, when Trevor Noah is speaking.

So, you know, just like anything, it’s a risk assessment and a decision he made on a personal basis.
 
Q    Thank you.  And I want to ask a few questions on Title 42, but real quick, I want to take another stab at a question I tried yesterday.  You answered the first part of it.  We’ve heard the President say over and over again that he has never spoken to his son about his business dealings.  Has he ever spoken to his son’s business partners about his son’s business dealings?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Again, nothing has changed about what I said yesterday.  The President does not get involved in the business dealings of his son.

Q    Even through his son’s business partners?

MS. PSAKI:  Nothing has changed since what I said yesterday.
 
Q    Okay.  I don’t believe you answered that part of my question yesterday though.

MS. PSAKI:  He’s not involved in his son’s business dealings.
 
Q    Okay.  On Title 42, Mayorkas detailed this six-point plan; part of it involves sending healthcare providers from the VA.  He was asked about this on the Hill today.  He said that it’s necessary, that this interagency effort is necessary.  But is it appropriate to be taking resources away from the VA to help with the surge at the border?

MS. PSAKI:  Again, these dec- — these decisions and discussions about what resources are possible are made through the interagency process, and clearly, having support and resources for our nation’s veterans is a top priority to the President.  But we also want to take steps we can at the border, even as we anticipate an increase in migrants coming to the border, to keep the American people safe.  And this is part of that effort.
 
Q    Another piece of this plan talked about the law enforcement help.  CBP has 23,000 agents working on the southern border right now.  We’re already seeing 7,000 illegal crossings a day; that is expected to surge to 18,000 when Title 42 is lifted.  So, how does adding 600 law enforcement officers make a dent in that? 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say, Jacqui, that one of the reasons that Secretary Mayorkas is participating in the important, you know, democratic process of testifying on the Hill is to answer the questions of exactly how the resources he’s requesting, and they have identified as needing, to address this potential increase will help address that.  So I would point you to his many hours of testimony today and tomorrow. 

Q    And then there’s been reporting that Speaker Pelosi is unhappy with the way that the White House has handled Title 42 and worried that if it comes up for a vote as part of the Ukraine package, that Democrats wouldn’t have the votes to defeat that.  Does the White House share that concern?  And what do you make of Pelosi seeming to be kind of shaky on just how close she is with the White House on this decision?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say we’re incredibly close with Speaker Pelosi, and the President has known her for many, many decades.  I don’t — I don’t have more to spell out or explain what her meaning was or what “defeat it” means or doesn’t mean. 

There are many strong feelings and points of view on Capitol Hill in the House and in the Senate about Title 42.  It wasn’t a decision made by the White House.  It’s a decision made to lift it by the CDC.  The authority given to — was given to them by Congress. 

And our effort and our focus is on implementation.  And the Department — the Secretary of Homeland Security is obviously testifying on that. 

So, I don’t have any more to explain about the particular comments.  But we obviously work very closely with Speaker Pelosi on a range of issues, including immigration.

Q    But a number of Democrats are, you know, speaking up about their problems with Title 42.  I mean, Mark Kelly was briefed by Mayorkas yesterday.  He said that he still has remaining questions about how and when resources are going to hit the ground.  These are Democrats saying these things.  They’re not wanting, you know, Title 42 to replace an immigration effort, but they’re saying that there just is not a plan in place to support what’s going to happen when Title 42 goes away.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, what I was trying to note earlier, perhaps not articulately, is that there are a range of members who have strong concerns about it being lifted.  Again, not a decision we make — a decision made by health and science experts.  And there are many members who feel very strongly about it actually being — it lifted and that moving forward.
 
This is why Secretary Mayorkas is on the Hill doing, I believe, four hearings, answering extensive questions from a range of members, Democratic and Republican.  He put out a six-pillar plan on exactly how he’s going to implement it.  And that has been a plan that’s been in the works for six months.  So, this is part of the democratic process happening, and he’s happy to be on the Hill answering their questions.
 
Go ahead, Peter.
 
Q    Hey, Jen.  The bipartisan leadership of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senators Durbin and Grassley, have expressed concern about the DHS inspector general delaying or diminishing reports on sexual misconduct.  This is Trump-era holdover.  Is the President going to fire or in some way intervene with Mr. Cuffari, who is the inspector general, and is there any broader sense about what to do about Trump-era inspectors general?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I know that there can be changes made.  I have not dug into this particular inspector general with the President or the team here.  I’m happy to do that.  And I can follow up with you after the briefing.
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Thanks, Jen.  On the issue of student debt, I know you’ve been asked about this before, but Senator Schumer just told reporters on the Hill that the President is getting closer to canceling up to $50,000 in student loan debt for borrowers.  He said, “The President is moving in our direction… We’re getting closer.”  Is that true?  When can we expect a decision?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Look, the President has been considering and looking at options for how to provide more le- — relief to students across the country.
 
I would note, again, that not a single borrower of federal student loans has paid a penny on these loans since he took office.  And this has been the longest time of that for any President, probably, in history.  You can factcheck me on that. And he’s continuing to consider a range of options in terms of any additional steps.
 
Q    A follow-up on that —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Let me go to the back.  Go ahead.
 
Q    Thank you, Jen.  Two questions.  A follow-up on the student loan forgiveness.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.
 
Q    You said that the President is looking at a range of options with regards to canceling some student debt.  But is the President looking at any options for those students and parents who saved and sacrificed so that they wouldn’t have to take out such massive loans?  Is he looking at including them in relief retroactively?  How would they be made whole if there was
some sort of canceling of debt?
 
MS. PSAKI:  You mean for people who have paid off all of their student loans?
 
Q    Yeah — who made sacrifices so that they wouldn’t have to take out some of those loans.
 
MS. PSAKI:  It’s a good question.  What I can tell you at this point is that there’s legislation he’d be happy to sign for individuals who have $10,000 in existing student debt.  If Congress wanted to send that to him, he’d be happy to sign it, and he’s looking at executive actions and authorities.  But I don’t have anything to preview on that front.
 
Q    Okay.  Then, you know, if the President does move on canceling some of the student debt, isn’t that just one half of the equation though?  I mean, what is he looking at in order to keep some of these public universities from jacking up tuition prices, despite some of the federal subsidies that they’ve been getting?  I mean, what is it to stop some of these schools from just increasing tuition for the next generation of students?  Isn’t that half of the equation?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I don’t know if people would consider it half of the equation.  I don’t know.  We’ll let Americans define it.  I would point you the Department of Education to talk about their efforts on that front.
 
Q    And one last quick follow-up.  Is the President’s weekly lunch with the Vice President still a priority for him?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Absolutely.  Obviously, they’re not going to be dining in person while she is quarantining at home, but they did speak yesterday and I expect they will speak regularly while she is quarantining.  And she is participating in a number of policy meetings here, too.
 
Q    Thank you, Jen.
 
Q    I have a follow-up.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.  Oh, well — and then I can come to you next.
 
Oh, go ahead.  So polite.  Go ahead.
 
Q    Do you have any reaction to Boeing claiming that it’s lost $1.1 billion on the Air Force One contract?  And, more important, has the President ordered Boeing to stick with the traditional blue-and-white design instead of the garish red?  (Laughter.)
 
MS. PSAKI:  This is bringing me back to, like, my first week in this job.
 
Q    I know, we gave you a year.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yes, I appreciate it.  I actually don’t have any information on the plans for the new Air Force One.  I can certainly check and see what we know, and I can get back to you on that.
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Thanks, Jen.  Do you know why the Vice President’s doctor recommended she take Paxlovid?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Oh, well, I think as Dr. Jha said yesterday, there are a range of Americans who may not know they’re eligible and they should consult with their doctor.  That’s exactly what she did.  And one of the chal — not challenges, but one of our efforts right now is to provide more information publicly and have more people consult with their doctors about whether they’re eligible.
 
Q    Do you know if she’s, like, showing symptoms?  Or would her getting, like, severe COVID present, like, a national security risk?
 
MS. PSAKI:  They obviously said yesterday that she did not have any symptoms.  I don’t have any update beyond that.
 
She’s continuing to work from home, conducting her duties as Vice President, so I don’t believe we’re talking about a national security issue in this moment.  She can also do secure calls and video conferences from her home because we have that capacity.
 
Q    But if she got severe COVID disease, would that not be a national security risk?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I’m not going to —
 
Q    So, Paxlovid would potentially prevent that.
 
MS. PSAKI:  I’m not going to speak to a hypothetical of the Vice President getting sicker at this point in time, which I think is probably understandable.
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Can the White House give us any update on Trevor Reed’s condition after his release or any treatments that he might have received following his release?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, you know, obviously we’re going to respect his privacy, and we spoke to his health conditions because we wanted to emphasize how important it was and the urgency of bringing him home.  But we will, of course, leave that to him and his family to speak to and respect his health privacy beyond now.
 
Q    And then on the Vice President, did her role as Vice President have any impact on her receiving this treatment?  Did that — you know, her serving as somebody who is in the line of succession, did that have any impact on her getting Paxlovid?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think it’s important to note Paxlovid is widely available across the country through people consulting with their doctors.  So it is not just a treatment that is available to only a small population of the public. 
 
In fact, what our effort is and what our focus is, at this point, is more broadly educating people on how they may be eligible for it.  Certainly, we are grateful that this treatment is out there and available so that the Vice President, somebody who’s incredibly important in the line of succession, can take it.  But she did it through consultations with her doctor. 
 
Go ahead, in the middle.
 
Q    Thanks, Jen.  So, Democrats on the Hill today said they will act soon on efforts to lower the prices of gas and that a federal gas tax holiday is still on the table for them.  If they give the — or if they include a federal gas tax holiday in a bill, would the President support that?
 
MS. PSAKI:  The President has long said that he’s open to a range of options, including a federal gas tax holiday, and we’re continuing to consult with members of Congress about a range of options on lowering the price of gas. 
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Yeah.  So, on Poland and Bulgaria: Energy experts see that as sort of a warning from Russia to Germany, other countries in Europe, to pay in rubles.  Is there a me- — and we’re also hearing that some companies in Europe are paying rubles for energy.  Is there a message from the White House to those companies or countries that might cave and pay in rubles for energy?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I don’t think we have a new message to offer today.  What I would note is that we have long predicted — I mean, this is the Russian playbook; part of the Russian playbook is weaponizing energy.  So could they do it other places?  That certainly is possible.  That’s one of the reasons why this taskforce was launched, at the President — that we’re working with the Europeans on, to ensure that we are diversifying access for LNG and also for oil as well for the Europeans.
 
Q    And then, about a month ago, you announced that the U.S. was going to release 1 million barrels a day for six months.  Oil prices — crude oil prices are still over a hundred dollars a barrel today.  Gas prices are up.  Is it having the intended effect?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, we’ve — we’ve said this is one tool that we can — we can utilize.  And I know that gas prices also did come down from the beginning as a result of these actions, but we’re continuing to explore additional options. 
 
As we know, the oil markets are a global market, and increasing supply and continuing to work with other countries to increase supply is part of our overall objective here.
 
Q    It went down only 3 cents, and we’re about 20 cents away from the record.  So —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, we’re going to continue to take steps to reduce the price of gas for the American people.  Every option — a range of options remains on the table, as is evidenced by the earlier question.  And we know that increasing supply and ensuring supply meets the demand on the marketplace as part of that effort. 
 
We also watch closely for any attempt at price gouging.  When oil prices come down, obviously gas prices should come down.  And as you know, because we’ve had a range of charts in here, we watch that closely as well.  And that’s something we will continue to call out.
 
I can do like one —
 
Q    Thanks, Jen.  I think we have to gather in a second.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Oh, I think — okay.  Okay, one last one.  Last one. 
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Jen, can I just ask quickly: When the supplemental request comes out, either I guess tomorrow or Friday, will there be anything changing any of the COVID-related requests that are previous?  Is the only — are the only new materials going to be related to the Ukraine request, or will there be a new — a new spate of requests on COVID assistance as well?
 
MS. PSAKI:  So, we will request assis- — COVID funding, and we will reiterate our requests for $22.5 billion for COVID funding, something we feel will help meet the immediate emergency needs we have.  And that was a discussion, obviously, that we didn’t get through but we will continue with Congress in the coming days and weeks. 
 
Thanks so much, everyone.
 
3:47 P.M. EDT