James S. Brady Press Briefing Room 2:43 P.M. EDT MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Okay. Happy Monday. Just catching up on the weekend
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:43 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Okay. Happy Monday. Just catching up on the weekend in the second row — see what’s happening. (Laughter.)
Okay, one item for all of you at the top.
Tomorrow, the President is traveling to Troy, Alabama, to visit a Lockheed Martin facility that manufactures weapon systems such as Javelin anti-tank missiles, which the Biden-Harris administration has been providing Ukraine and the Ukrainians because they’ve been so effective — effectively used to defend their country against the Russian invasion, including to win the Battle for Kyiv.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Javelin missiles, they are a lightweight, portable, shoulder-fired anti-tank weapon system that can hit targets up to 2.5 miles away. They’re highly lethal and we’ve sent over 5,500 Javelin anti-armor systems to Ukraine to support the Ukrainian people’s fight for freedom.
The facility, which the President will be touring tomorrow, has produced more than 50,000 Javelin missiles over the last 20 years. In 2021 alone, they produced nearly 13,000 total missiles, and they currently can produce up to 2,100 Javelins per year. The President will underscore the role that the men and women who work at the facility in Alabama making these weapons have had in the fight — on the fight in Ukraine.
And at the plant, he will deliver — in addition to touring the facility, he will deliver remarks about the security assistance we are providing, highlighting the urgency of the request to Congress to pass funding quickly to help Ukraine continue to succeed against Russian aggression and to make sure that the United States and our allies can replenish our own stocks of weapons to replace what we have sent to Ukraine.
He’s also going to highlight how important it is for Congress to move quickly to get the Bipartisan Innovation Act to his desk. Each Javelin miscil [sic] — missile requires more than 200 semiconductors to make. And boosting domestic chip manufacturing isn’t just critical to making more in America or lowering prices, it’s also a vital component of our national security.
So, passing the Bipartisan Innovation Act means America will stay on the cutting edge of new technology. It means stronger, more resilient supply chains. It means an out- — outcompeting the rest of the world for decades to come.
So, that’s a little preview. Go ahead.
Q Great. So, analysts say that Russia’s war in Ukraine has depleted about a third of the Javelin stockpile in the U.S. and, I think, about a quarter of the Stinger missile stockpiles have also been depleted. I’m wondering if this keeps up, if the U.S. is concerned or if the White House is concerned that stockpiles for weapons that may be needed in other parts of the world are going to be depleted.
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say that the Defense Department assesses, of course, ensuring that we have what we need to defend ourselves. And we’ve been able to transfer equipment from U.S. stocks, including Javelins, to Ukraine without affecting military readiness.
We, of course, are looking to replenish U.S. inventories and backfill depleted stocks for ourself and also our allies and partners, which is why we requested the recor- — resources to do so from Congress through the supplemental bill.
But as I noted at the top, really what the trip tomorrow is an opportunity to do is to remind people in the country of why we’re fighting, why we’re supporting the Ukrainians in this war; the type of equipment and the type of assistance we are providing from the United States, made here in the United States; and why it is urgent to get this funding across the finish line; and also the Bipartisan Innovation Act, which I think most people didn’t realize had such a key component for our defense industry here in the United States.
Q I got one more, switching topics. Can you confirm that the President had lunch with President Clinton and give us some details on why? I’m wondering if — did he maybe seek advice on midterms from President Clinton?
MS. PSAKI: I’m sure they will have a wide-ranging discussion. But he spoke with him a couple of weeks ago. He’s had a number of conversations with him over the course of time since his time in office, and they talked about having lunch just a few weeks ago, so this is an opportunity to do exactly that. And I’m sure they will have a broad conversation.
I’ll also note, which I don’t remember if it was reported publicly, but if it wasn’t, he had — he had lunch last week with former President Obama as well.
Q Thanks, Jen. On the midterms — speaking of midterms: So, this report in the New York Times, it says that the President’s pollster is sounding the — had sounded the alarm about inflation and immigration becoming political liabilities, coupled with this new polling that is out today that shows that voters trust Republicans more, believe they’re more — better — that they are better suited to handle both of these issues.
So can you speak to how the administration is digesting this data, including these remarks from the pollster? And is there a sense right now that there needs to be some kind of course correction on these two issues, given that polling in the midterms being just six months out?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that that report was about a range of polling that goes back to last year, including before a number of events happened, whether it was the invasion of Russia into Ukraine or even the uptick of COVID that we saw late in the summer and into the fall — really, primarily, in the fall.
And what I would note, as you’re looking at that, is that, one, there’s a consistency with a lot of public polling — a lot of what we’ve talked about here in this room. But also, our actions and the efforts that the President has undertaken from the beginning of this administration — unrelated to politics, really focused on policymaking — are on addressed — have been focused from the first day on exactly those issues, whether it was lowering costs for the American people, making sure we took steps to address a long-broken immigration system, or, of course, addressing the pandemic and the continuing fight against the pandemic.
So, in terms of the course correction question, I would say that, as you look to — while I’m going to be careful about not getting too much into politics from here, but what I think you can all expect to hear more from the President in the coming months, and more from other Democrats as well, is the contrast of what he — what his agenda represents, what he is fighting for, who he is fighting for, what he is going to do to lower costs to address inflation, what he would propose to address a broken immigration system, and the contrast with the other side, which, in our view, does not have a lot in the cupboard.
So that is more about the time of year that we are approaching, less a course correction from ongoing policy work that has been done from the beginning.
Q But given the situation at the border right now and this pollster’s warning that immigration seems to be a growing vulnerability for the President, does the White House believe that to be the case that immigration could become a very serious liability for this White House come November?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I believe that a lot of the reporting in that story dated back to memos from last year as well. And I would note from many of you who are in this briefing room, we talked a lot — I’m looking at you, Peter — a lot about immigration in this room back to last year, in part because the system is so broken. It is long overdue to be fixed. That’s why the President proposed a bill on his first day in office.
Removing ourselves from the politics on that, we’ve long known that that was a substantive policy issue that more work needed to be done on. Not only did he put forward a bill on his first day in office, he has been a supporter and advocate for many attempts by Democrats in the Senate to include it in reconciliation bills. And we’re going to continue to work with anyone who is willing and able and open to the engagement on getting immigration reform done.
Q Really quick housekeeping. You had said that the President would likely be wearing a mask on Saturday while he
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q We didn’t see him wearing one. What changed? Was there guidance from the President’s physician?
MS. PSAKI: I would say we made decisions based on consultations with the President’s physician, which I know I noted as well. He was wearing a mask for portions of the behind-the-scenes visit to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on Saturday evening, and a determination was made that he did not need to do that while he was on stage.
Q Thank you, Jen. Finnish local media are reporting that the country is planning to apply for NATO membership next week. Is that something you’re aware of?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve seen some reporting, and I’m not going to speak for them, of course. We, of course, support the policy of NATO for those who are interested in joining to aspire and meet the qualifications to join, and certainly support any decisions by Finnish leaders and others to do — to apply.
Q And just more broadly, what is the President’s personal view about just the question of NATO enlargement, about whether that’s something that would be an effective step to address the security challenges that are posed by Russia or something that would be a provocation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President supports the open-door policy of NATO and supports those who have aspirations to join to apply for membership and the role of NATO in making those determinations.
But I would say, broadly speaking, what we all look at — the President, other European leaders — is the fact that President Putin’s clear objective at the beginning, prior to his invasion at the beginning of this war, was to further divide NATO, to further divide the West. That is the exact opposite of what we’re seeing here with these reports, and also just the broad unity across Europe and the United States — the West.
Q One other issue. Amazon told its employees today that they would be providing a new workplace benefit to allow workers to travel to other states if they need to for abortion procedures. I’m curious what the White House thinks of that, whether that’s something that is appropriate as there are more restrictions on abortion rights, and whether that’s something that unions should seek in collective bargaining negotiations?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, I don’t have any comment on a decision by a private sector company. We — you know our view on the archaic abortion laws that we’ve seen put into place across the country in some states, far too many states. I’m happy to check if there’s more we have to say on it.
Q Thanks, Jen. Congressman Adam Schiff, who’s part of the delegation that traveled to Kyiv over the weekend, and House Speaker Pelosi says that they heard new requests from Ukraine in terms of needs that they had not heard before and also said they made recommendations to President Biden afterward. So can you talk about what those needs are that Ukraine has and what recommendations the lawmakers made to President Biden?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President spoke with Speaker Pelosi but also the entire delegation — I believe we put a pool note out about this yesterday — after their visit to Ukraine, before they went to Poland. I believe that was where it took place in their travel. He is looking forward to getting a more extensive briefing from them when they return.
Now, the House is out this week, so it may be virtually this week, or it could be when they return next week. So I don’t have any more details to speak to what the Ukrainians requested or asked for in their conversations.
Q And nothing on the recommendations from lawmakers either?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I don’t have anything more to read out from here. I would say that, as you know, we have this supplemental funding request that the President is going to be making a strong case for tomorrow when he travels to Alabama. And we are really going to continue to consult with and rely on the advice of the Department of Defense on what weapons systems and equipment the Ukrainians need to continue to succeed in the war.
Q And given these two high-profile visits that we’ve had — Defense Secretary Austin, Secretary of State Blinken, now House Speaker Pelosi — should we expect that it’s only a matter of time before President Biden goes?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s no plans in the works at this time, and obviously, we’ll continue to assess. And as you know, we — our objective is to reopen the embassy, to have our diplomats back there, not just traveling back and forth but present in the country. And I know the President would love to visit Ukraine, but noth- — no plans in the works at this point in time.
Q And one more question. In about a week — in a week from today, Russia is expected to have its so-called Victory Day. What is the White House expecting President Putin to do on that day or in the next seven days leading up to that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we know that President Putin has emphasized the significance of this day for him and for the Russian military, but I don’t have anything to preview or predict at this point in time from here about what they may or may not do.
And I expect we’ll have more to convey about what we will do in advance of Monday.
Q Jen —
Q Oh, wait. Just to clarify the last point: You expect you’ll announce more things that the United States will do ahead of May 9th?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we will certainly mark our support for the Ukrainians and the Europeans in some capacity, but I don’t have anything more specific at this point in time.
Q Jen —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. Go ahead.
Q Sounds interesting. (Laughter.) On Alabama —
Q Sorry, I was like, “What?”
Q No, no, that was good. Yeah.
Alabama. The President is the subject of plenty of Republican attack ads down there, so I’m curious: Is anyone meeting him, of the elected official variety, when he’s in Alabama tomorrow?
MS. PSAKI: I expect we’ll have more for you tomorrow on that once it’s finalized. Typically, we don’t finalize until the night before.
Q Did you say 200 semiconductors per Javelin?
MS. PSAKI: I believe that was in my notes, yes. I will double check —
MS. PSAKI: — that that’s accurate, but that is my understanding.
Q So, I mean, given the semiconductor shortage, you know, are there even enough to make them if that’s what they need?
MS. PSAKI: There — there continue to be, but that is why we need the Bipartisan Innovation Act signed and why we need to ensure that we are not reliant on the whims of others in order to continue manufacturing here in the United States.
Q And, of course, the President confirmed a little while ago he’s meeting with the parents of Austin Tice. He said Saturday night he wanted to meet with them.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Is there anything more about how that came together as quickly as it did? I mean, obviously, they were here in town, but anything else we can learn about getting this meeting together so quickly?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, after the President made those comments, obviously we went into action to work to set up the meeting on Sunday and see if Debra Tice — Debra and Marc Tice — Austin’s parents — would be available.
Since — I would note that since the December meeting with our National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, our Principal Deputy National Security Advisor, Jon Finer, and other NSC officials have met with the Tice family in person on three occasions, including a meeting just last week.
And so, we have been very closely engaged with the family, and, obviously, meeting with the President is an additional and more significant step in that regard. But we have been in close touch with them as well.
Q And what is the current U.S. government understanding of Tice’s whereabouts and status?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any updates to provide to you from here. But what the President will certainly convey — and I’m sure we will have a written readout after the meeting — is that we will continue to do everything we can to bring him, and as we do with any American, home.
And I would note that, of course, we have a Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, as you know and you have become familiar with because of our ability to bring Trevor Reed home — obviously, certainly a different circumstance. But we have an entire apparatus and effort through the interagency to work in doing everything we can to engage with leaders, with countries, even some we certainly do not have diplomatic relations with, to bring Americans home.
Q Can you speak to the President’s expectations for the First Lady’s visit to Romania and Slovakia this week, and what he would hope she could do on his behalf?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, the President is grateful and looking forward to Dr. Biden, the First Lady, visiting Europe later this week.
As was noted in the announcement that was put out, I believe yesterday, the focus of this trip is to emphasize the U.S. support for the work they’re doing on behalf of refugees, on behalf of supporting the Ukrainian people.
And she is going — and I think the significance of this should not be lost — over Mother’s Day to really show this support. And so, the President is grateful for her willingness to do this and for the important role she’ll play in representing the United States during her visit to Europe and through these meetings.
MS. PSAKI: And as war continues on, the Ukraine aid and the COVID funding that’s needed, is there any additional insight on the view of the White House about whether those should proceed only if they’re fused together, or could they be passed separately?
I know you’re deferring to Schumer and his plans, but is there any update on how you see that playing out?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Kelly, you know, the President put them forward together because that would certainly be his preference. And while he’s obviously traveling to Alabama tomorrow to emphasize and really make a strong call for the urgency of moving the Ukrainian — the money for the Ukrainians forward, it should not be lost on anyone that there is a dire need for money to continue to fund our needs on COVID.
And I would note that there were reports, of course, over the weekend from many of your outlets as well, including this morning, about a range of new subvariants and — that have been — that have prompted some surges in different parts of the United States.
This is a reminder — that is a reminder of how vital it is that we are prepared, that we are able to purchase in the future, if science and the magic of science makes it possible, modified or variant-specific vaccines or treatments to protect the American people as we continue battling COVID.
And without additional funding, we’re not going to be able to do that. And we will be behind — last in line — behind the world, which is exactly the opposite of the place we’ve generally been.
Q And one last question. The Vice President tested negative.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q I understand she will be returning to work.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Obviously, the President has some travel. But even with her negative test and a plan to wear masking, are they going to resume their in-person contact, or is the President’s physician going to suggest a little more time for the two of them to be apart until she clears any further period?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Let me check on what they might have scheduled. She will be wearing a mask through the 10 days, which is what our protocols are here. And we, as noted, try to socially distance in meetings with the President, even as the Vice President. But I will check and see if there’s any meetings that she would be participating in.
Go ahead, Peter.
Q Thank you, Jen. So, the DHS Secretary is now talking about people on the terrorist watchlist crossing the border into the U.S. And he says, “We know where those 42 are.” Why isn’t he saying, “We know where those 42 are; they’re in jail”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Peter, I would really point you to the Department of Homeland Security to get more follow-up details on his comments. I know he’s spoken extensively at a range of hearings and, obviously, on a range of Sunday shows — yesterday — including on Fox, I believe.
Q So, then what is the President’s priority? Would it be stopping potential terrorist attacks or letting these migrants come in?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think as we noted just a couple of weeks ago when there was reporting about the number of individuals who were on the watchlist being stopped at the border, that that was the Border Patrol doing their jobs, that was the system working. And certainly, part of the role of the Home- — Department of Homeland Security is to keep our country safe, keep the American people safe. And I think that’s an indication of Secretary Mayorkas’s work to do exactly that.
Q But — so if it takes 19 people to carry out the September 11th attacks, what do you guys think 42 people on a terrorist watchlist might be capable of?
MS. PSAKI: Again, Peter, our — the number one job of the President of the United States, the Vice President, and certainly the Secretary of Homeland Security is to keep the American people safe. And I think a lot of this reporting you’re referencing is an indication that they’re doing their jobs and doing exactly that.
Q And then, on another topic: Does the President know that DHS is putting together this Disinformation Governance Board?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Peter, I think I would note — and I’m not sure if this has been in your reporting yet — but this is a continuation of work that was done under the prior administration — under the Trump administration — to take steps to address disinformation, address the use of disinformation in helping smugglers prompt the movement of more migrants across — to the border.
I would note that the first example given in the announcement about this was: DHS has worked to understand how, quote, “misinformation is spread by human smugglers that prey on vulnerable populations attempting to migrate to the United States.”
So, for anyone who’s out there who may be concerned about the increase in migrants to the border: This is the kind of apparatus that’s working to address disinformation —
Q But —
MS. PSAKI: — and, again, continuing the work of the Department of Homeland Security in 2020, something we’re currently applauding.
Q But just in terms of what the President wants out of this, does he want the people on this board to start censoring information that is not helpful to him?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me be clear on exactly what this board does or what the work they’re doing does. And in their announcement, which is publicly available on the Department of Homeland Security website for anyone to read, it says, quote, “The primary mission is to establish best practices to ensure that efforts to understand and respond to disinformation are done in ways that protect privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties, and the right to free speech.”
Q But — okay. There’s this woman, Nina Jankowicz, who is going to be in charge of the board. She has said that she thinks the Hunter Biden laptop is Russian disinformation. So, should we look forward in the future to her censoring Internet traffic about the Hunter Biden laptop?
MS. PSAKI: I think I noted exactly what the objective of the board is, including continuing the work of the prior administration. And the woman you noted has extensive experience and has done extensive work addressing disinformation. She has testified before Congress, testified in Europe. She has done — worked closely with the Ukrainians and has unique expertise, especially at this moment we’re facing.
Q Thanks, Jen. Following up on the question about the stockpile and weapons, some experts tell us the Pentagon has only just begun issuing the new contracts to replace some of the weaponry sent overseas. I’m wondering if the President is comfortable with the pace of contracting and defense industry production?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly — look, I think I would point you to the Department of Defense for any update on the status of contracts and contract- — and they have quite a bit of experience in contracting and how they’re navigating that.
They do assess, of course, as they are making decisions about what type of equipment and materials we can provide, ensuring that it continues to allow us to defend and protect our homeland. And they are confident in that and the President is confident in that.
I would note that the Defense Department is also working closely with industry to evaluate the health of weapon systems production lines at the prime and sub-tier supplier levels and examine bottlenecks in every component to ensure, if anything can be addressed, we can work to address that in the manufacturing process.
And we’re considering a range of options, if they’re needed, to increase production capacity and improve production timelines of both Javelin — Javelins, as well as Stingers. But that’s an ongoing process, so I just don’t have anything to preview at this point in time.
Q And one more on inflation. Has the White House analyzed at all how much student loan forgiveness would impact inflation?
MS. PSAKI: I know there’s been outside analysis of that, but I don’t have any internal analysis at this point to preview for you.
Q Thanks, Jen. You just said, a moment ago, that the President would like to see the COVID aid and the Ukraine aid together. I think, last Thursday, he said he didn’t really have any kind of preference on how Congress moved it. So, did his thinking change on this? And if so, why?
MS. PSAKI: That was what he put forward in his letter. But what I’m not going to do and he’s not going to do is get into a hypothetical of what he would or wouldn’t sign.
Q Well — okay, but he’s not urging specifically that Congress tie them together in a single package?
MS. PSAKI: He said that was his preference in the letter he sent up to Congress. But again, there’s a process that needs to be underway.
But the point is: They’re both urgent for different needs and we’re going to continue to press Congress to move them forward.
Q And when Congress — I guess, when the full Congress comes back, are you guys planning to send up officials, as you’ve done in the past, to urge them to pass this COVID relief? Is there any kind of like full-court press that you all are planning on that?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. I don’t have anything at this point to preview. I’m sure as we get later in the week, when we’ll have more updates on the schedule for next week, we’ll have more to convey.
But certainly, we haven’t waited for Congress to be back. Our team has been in touch with members, with their offices, with teams, making clear what the urgency is at this moment.
Q Thanks, Jen. Is the President — or how is the President following the evacuation of civilians from Mariupol?
And can you share whether the United States played any role, whether helping organize, strategize, give advice on the current humanitarian corridor?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on the latter part of your question from here.
We are — the President, of course, met with his national security team this morning to get an update on a range of issues, as he does on a very regular basis. And this, I’m certain, was on the topic of discussion.
Obviously, there are also a range of news reports that have been developing throughout the day, as you know, about the challenge and the delay in moving more civilians and others out of the plant.
So, as much as, of course, it’s positive that 100 civilians were able to depart, there’s clearly more work that needs to be done. We continue to call for it, to press for it. But beyond that, I don’t have any behind-the-scenes details to outline for you.
Q On Title 42, I know you were asked about this on Friday, but did President Biden asks Mexican President López Obrador to increase troops on the Mexican border? Is the United States asking Mexico to increase troops on either their southern border or northern border?
And what is the overall message to the region, not only Mexico but the Northern Triangle, to address Title 4- — the lifting of Title 42 and the expectation of increased migration?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as part of the conversation — which, again, was very constructive. It was neither threatening nor pressing in that manner. It was a conversation that was put together, in part, because of the timeline of the lifting of Title 42 and to discuss ongoing cooperation and work on the security front, on the economic front, as we prepare for the lifting.
But I just don’t have more details beyond what was put in the readout.
Q So, no details on whether troops — there was a request for troops?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there will be ongoing conversations that will happen as we coordinate in the lead up to — to the lifting.
Q Thanks, Jen. A question on executive actions: The President, as we’ve talked about, is mulling taking executive action on several high-profile issues like police reform, student loans. And several groups of lawmakers have said that, you know, they want their own — they’ve made their own executive action request. So, is it a conscious strategy of the Biden White House to rely more on executive action authority going forward in the coming months?
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t say that. I would say it’s — we’re going to do both.
Look, there are steps that we certainly would like to see Congress move forward on — or we would have liked to have seen them move forward on in some cases — police reform, as an example.
And when the bipartisan process paused, we — we stepped up the process of considering and reviewing executive action on that front. And that is true in a range of areas.
But the preference is, of course, legislative action, because it’s more permanent; it’s more lasting. But we will continue and the President will contider [sic] — consider using his executive authority capacity and capabilities throughout his presidency.
But I wouldn’t say it’s choosing between. We are still continuing to press for the passage of the Bipartisan Innovation Act for work that we feel could be done on a bipartisan basis, whether that is on helping veterans or on health issues or opioids.
But he will also, of course, continue to consider his options he can take with his own authorities.
Q Could you talk more about the timbre of the conversations with lawmakers? Is there pushback saying, “You know, you should do your job and pass laws,” or how do those conversations go?
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have more to read out for you. I’m sure the lawmakers can speak to you about it themselves.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thank you. On — following up on the student loan comments —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — the student loan relief comments from last week — the President was clear that he was not supportive of $50,000 for relief. He’s expressed concern in the past about providing relief to — he mentioned graduates of Yale — Harvard and Yale and Penn. Does he still hold a concern that pursuing student loan relief could provide a giveaway to certain college graduates? And as a result of that, is there consideration of having income caps with any sort of student loan relief?
MS. PSAKI: There is. And he has talked about that back to when he ran for President. And I would say, when he talks about the type of schools, you know, there are a number of schools — some you mentioned — that have larger endowments than other schools, public universities, and others. And so, what he’s referencing is making sure it’s targeted to those graduates who have the greatest need.
Q And would that — in the effort to have that target, would the student loan relief apply to students of both public and private institutions?
MS. PSAKI: Again, it wasn’t meant to discriminate. It’s more meant to make a point about where the needs are greatest, and that’s why he has talked about, in the past, having an income cap as well.
But we’re not at the point where we have a final proposal or a final executive action or anything along those lines. And when we do we will — we will, of course, detail it to all of you.
Q And following up as well on the Disinformation Governance Board. Reading the announcements — well, two examples are pretty prominent. That was — you mentioned combating disinformation from cartels and then also disinformation from extremist groups.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q Just, in terms of clarifying here, can you help me kind of assess how this would look —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — for like, the common Ameri- — the person that’s at their computer right now that sees, you know, disinformation online? Or for cartels — it’s usually buying a segment on the radio and saying, “Now’s the time to come.” How exactly would this board combat that? Would it just be factchecks, publishing guidance, or, you know, what would Americans actually see when it comes to the work of this board?
MS. PSAKI: Well, what it’s — again, it’s continuing work that was done by CISA back to 2020. So, what this would do is continue that work, and it would help coordinate internal activities from the department related to disinformation that poses a threat to the homeland.
So, you gave some examples there of terrorist threats, of course, but also — you know, which is different — the smugglers work that they do pushing disinformation.
It’s not — the mandate is not to adjudicate what is true or false online or — or otherwise. It will operate in a nonpartisan and apolitical manner.
It’s basically meant to coordinate a lot of the ongoing work that is happening. And what their focus is — the focus is on disinformation that threatens the homeland, as I noted, which things like inciting — things that would incite violent extremism, you know, human traffickers and other transnational criminal organizations, any efforts that pali- — malign foreign influence, anything that would endanger individuals during emergencies.
So, a lot of this work is really about work that people may not see every day that’s ongoing by the Department of Homeland Security.
Q Would there be something public facing they would see? Or would all this happen kind of behind closed doors amongst government officials —
MS. PSAKI: Well, they would consider putting out public products that represents the department’s view on disinformation-related manners, but that’s their overarching objective, and I don’t have a determination of what that format would look like at this time.
Q One more on that. Just — what will DHS be relying on when determining what is information from extremist groups? Will they be relying on the FBI’s, sort of, you know, lists of groups that could pose extremist violence? Or is there some other kind of platform or — just that DHS is relying on to identify?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I understand your question. I’m not sure there’s much detail I can get into from here. This is, again, ongoing work that has been happening by CISA, back to 2020. And I would point to the Department of Homeland Security if they have more details on any sources they’re looking at.
Q So, this is being run through CISA, then?
MS. PSAKI: It was run through CISA for — back to 2020. It’s continuing that work and is part of the Department of Homeland Security’s work.
Q Yeah, one more on student loan — student debt forgiveness. Republicans have already been setting out to criticize any action that the President takes as a move to help that is elitist, that helps the wealthy. If there are income caps that you just discussed there, would it be done in a way that preve- — you know, prevents this program from being a program for the wea- — for college-going wealthy, and one that would be equitable, in terms of helping kids maybe who need it more or students who need it more?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s the goal — right? — is to make sure it’s targeted at people who need help the most.
Q Okay. And then, the Washington Post reported that the White House is in talks of having employees of Starbucks and Amazon who helped the respective union drives there perhaps visit the White House. Can you confirm that? Is that — does the President want to host those union workers?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we are in regular touch with union workers and union leaders, in part — in large part because the President has been — long been an advocate of collective bargaining rights and of the right of anyone to choose to join a union. But I don’t have anything to preview in terms of a meeting at this point in time.
Q Thank you, Jen. Following up on the question of Speaker Pelosi going to Kyiv: At that time, it was just Democrats who went with her, no Republicans. Is the President disappointed at all that this might have been a missed opportunity for a show of bipartisan support — not only to Americans, but to Ukrainians and the Ukrainian President?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I believe her office spoke to this already. And they conveyed that they did offer to include Republicans on their trip. And as would be standard for security reasons, typic- — they didn’t get into details about the fact that they would be going to Ukraine; they conveyed it as a trip to Poland. And any Republican they reached out to declined to join the trip.
Q And one of our ABC/Washington Post polls found that 8 in 10 Americans are expressing worries about a wider war and the possible use of nuclear weapons by Russia. And given that Russia has made it clear that they believe NATO has — has engaged in a proxy war, what’s the White House’s message to worried Americans right now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s an important step to take and a responsibility of everyone to make clear this is not a proxy war. I know that is the Republic- — I mean, the Russian talking point on this, but it is not a proxy war.
This is a war between Russia and Ukraine. NATO is not involved. The United States is not fighting this war. So, I think it’s important and vital for all of us to not repeat the Kremlin talking points on this front.
I would say that the Russians themselves have, over time, including as recently as last year, made clear that no nuclear war — a nuclear war could not be won. We agree with that. And that is important for every country to restate and every elected official to restate around the country here as well.
So I would note the President’s view, and his position continues to be that we are not putting U.S. troops on the ground to fight this war. And that’s something we will continue to reiterate for Americans.
Q Thank you so much. You just said on May 9 — maybe a follow-up — that the United States would certainly mark their support for Ukrainians and Europeans in some capacity. I was wondering whether you can be more specific. Are we talking about a symbolic gesture — you know, coordinated sanctions with the Europeans, or a concrete announcement of new aid for Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Not yet. I have nothing to preview yet. Maybe as we get closer to the end of the week, we may be there.
Q Thank you, Jen. Two questions about President Biden’s upcoming visit to East Asia. We know South Korea will be the very first East Asia or Asia country that President Biden will visit. Actually, for nearly 60 years, no U.S. president had visited South Korea first in his term; they usually put Japan first.
MS. PSAKI: But many U.S. presidents have visited South Korea over time.
Q Right. But the first has significance.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q So, is this a signal of a change of policy towards East Asia?
MS. PSAKI: In what capacity?
Q I mean, the U.S. will focus more on, for example, the issue of North Korea and also maybe have — invite South Korea to join Quad.
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are many ways that we engage with South Korea. It’s an impre- — incredibly important partnership, relationship. But the Quad will remain the Quad. We will continue to engage with South Korea through a range of mechanisms and — and continue to work on our — the strength of our relationship.
In terms of the order of the trip, I would not overread into that. Obviously, we have a strong relationship with Japan, strong relationship with South Korea. I’m sure — certain North Korea will of course be on the agenda — a prominent part of the agenda. We’ll have more to preview as we get closer to the trip.
Q And, actually, President-Elect Yoon — he said he is possibly reviewing South Korea’s joining of Quad if invited. Will we see the invitation from the United States to invite South Korea to join the Quad?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any prediction of that at this point. But I would note that we have an incredibly important, vital relationship with South Korea. We work on a range of issues in the region and around the world. And that is the reason why the President is going to be visiting later this month.
Q Thanks, Jen. I have a few. Senator Tim Kaine said yesterday that the competitiveness bill, COVID funding, and Ukraine aid are “three big tasks ahead of us in May.” That’s a pretty tall legislative order for a four-week time period. What is the President doing specifically to get those legislative priorities across the finish line this month?
MS. PSAKI: He’s going to Alabama tomorrow, that I previewed at the top of the briefing, to make the case in these remarks about how vital it is to move this legislation forward. And he and his team — we have been engaged already for the last several days — in calls, in outreach, and engagement — conveying how important it is to move these pieces of legislation forward. And certainly they’re all priorities that have a great deal of urgency.
And I noted at the top of the briefing: Tomorrow is an opportunity not just to talk about the supplemental package, but also to talk about the Bipartisan Innovation Act and how important it is to ensure we have access to semiconductors so we can continue to support not only the defense industry, but other industries across the country.
Q I was mainly referring to the four-week time period to get all three of those things done and whether or not the White House thinks that that’s likely that you can do it all (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: I’m not here to set a timeline. But I have repeated many times, and the President has conveyed, the urgency of moving all of these pieces of legislation forward.
I think you’ve seen, over the weekend, comments from a number of senators about that as well — echoing that point about the urgency of moving the supplemental package forward. The House is, of course, out this week. The Senate is not. They can move. And hopefully, next week, we’ll see more activity on the House side.
Q On student — on student debt: How did the White House get from “We’ll make a decision on erasing some student debt by the end of August” to making a decision “in the next couple weeks”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, “by the end of August” and “in the next couple of weeks” is the same thing. So —
Q So the President isn’t speeding up his timeline for making a decision because of political pressure from some within his party?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think when we outlined the — “by the end of August,” what we conveyed is that is the timeline by — through which the pause on student debt is — goes through. So it was before that time — unless it was — unless we — the President decided to extend it — a decision would be made.
I don’t have any preview of when — when will — there will be any announcement, and there’s not a final decision about student debt. But — but “in advance of that” is what we have said.
Q Thank you. Two questions. One, on the President’s agenda in this next important period of time, Senator Joe Manchin remains an important vote in the Senate, of course. He is saying he wants a package that includes deficit reduction. He is someone who wants a balanced budget amendment. That is something President Biden supported in the ‘90s. What does the President think now? Does he support a balanced budget amendment?
MS. PSAKI: The President is a huge advocate for deficit reduction. He actually reduced the deficit. We reduced the deficit last year by $300 billion on his watch — something that people often forget. And, certainly, his advocacy for — to making the tax system more fair, which has been part of the reconciliation proposal and process, would help do that as well.
I haven’t had a conversation with him about a balanced budget amendment. I’m not aware of that being — moving through. I’m happy to see if there’s more we can update on that front.
Q Thanks, Jen.
Q Sorry, if I could — just one more also on, kind of, the midterm season. I know you can’t talk to (inaudible) elections and campaigns — we get all that. But some of the Republican senators the President has worked with in the past, like Rob Portman, are retiring. And I wonder your thoughts about the tone that you’re hearing from the Republican Party in places like Ohio and the chances for working across party lines in the future.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to get ahead of the election. But what we’re seeing across the board is even with the former president not on the campaign trail, we’re seeing quite a few Republicans out there who are echoing his sentiment.
So, I think that speaks more for where the party is than it does for anything else.
Okay, I got to wrap this up. But, Eugene, go ahead.
Q Last year — excuse me. Last year, Ron Klain told us that the memo was being done by the Education Department on whether or not the President could sign off on those $10,000 of student debt relief. Is that memo being done? Is it done? Is the President waiting on that to make his final decision? Or is —
MS. PSAKI: So that’s the policy process — right? —
MS. PSAKI: — that’s ongoing. And then there’s always legal considerations as it relates to executive orders that — which is in conjunction with the Department of Education but part here. And we, of course, consult with the Department of Justice as needed.
Q But has the — is that memo — memo been done? Has the President (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on the status of an internal memo. But I will tell you what the President said last week: that he is continuing to consider and take a very hard look and close look at providing student debt relief. And that’s something that, you know, hopefully we’ll have more on soon.
Q Okay. And one more question. Does the White House have any comment on the bipartisan talks on the Hill to make a deal to combat climate change? Many Democrats see this as, kind of, smoke and mirrors; they see it as something that will never actually happen. Senator Whitehouse actually put it this way: “There’s literally nothing happening in the bipartisan effort.”
I’m just curious if the White House has a view of those talks.
MS. PSAKI: So, there — the bipartisan energy talks that Senator Manchin, I think you’re referencing, is orchestrating — the President has long believed that there should be support to move parts of his agenda forward on a bipartisan basis.
So, I don’t have any specific critique of it, other than that has long been his view. I’m not going to prejudge the outcome of these talks either, nor is the President. But we are also consi- — continuing to engage with a range of Democrats about how to move the reconciliation effort forward as well.
Thanks so much, everyone. We’ll see you tomorrow.
3:26 P.M. EDT