Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jen Psaki
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Portsmouth, New Hampshire
1:16 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Welcome to our trip to New Hampshire. I highlighted a little bit of this yesterday, so I will keep this brief.
But as a reminder, we are headed to Portsmouth. Portsmouth Harbor, which we are visiting, is the only deep-water harbor in New Hampshire and handles approximately 3.5 million tons and nearly $2 billion of cargo a year.
Earlier this year, we awarded $1.7 million from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for maintenance dredging in Portsmouth Harbor through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
And the investment builds on an $18.2 million Army Corps project in Portsmouth Harbor for navigation improvement, which widened the uppermost turning basin in the river.
Today, the President will hear from the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, Coast Guard Commander for Sector Northern New England, and New Hampshire Port Director on the impact of these projects and funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law on the port.
On the ground in Portsmouth, he will also see Governor Chris Sununu; Senator Hassan; Representatives Pappas and Annie -- and Kuster; the mayors of Portsmouth and Manchester; and several other state and local elected officials.
I also wanted to note -- did you all get the P+11 readout? Did it come to you yet?
Q: Not yet.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, I'm not sure it's gone out.
So let me -- let me do a couple of highlights from that.
Q: Watch out, Jen. The door is closing.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, thank you. Okay.
As you know, the President had a call with the P+11 this morning, as it was part of our close coordination with Allies and partners. He convened the video conference to discuss their ongoing efforts to support Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression.
The leaders reiterated their commitment to continue providing security, economic, and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine in its time of need. The leaders affirmed their solidarity with the Ukrainian people and condemned the humanitarian suffering caused by Russia's unprovoked and unjustified invasion.
They also discussed their respective diplomatic engagements and their coordinated efforts to continue to impose severe economic costs to hold Russia accountable.
They agreed to continue to closely coordinate their efforts, including working with and through the G7, EU, and NATO.
Okay, with that, yes, go ahead.
Q: Okay. On the mask mandate, why is the DOJ not appealing that? And by not, do you -- does the administration risk taking away some of your options for the future, especially if there's some new variants?
MS. PSAKI: Well, unless something's happened when we got on the plane, I don't think they've made any announcement at this point in time.
So, as we've said, agencies are reviewing step -- next steps, including the Department of Justice. Traditionally following a court decision, that can take a couple of days.
We've said from the start that our COVID response should be guided by the science and data and by experts. And just as a reminder, when we made this announcement, the CDC said it needed 15 days to assess the impacts of an uptick in cases on hospitalizations, deaths, and hospital capacity. We feel -- still feel that is entirely reasonable, based on the latest science, and public health decisions shouldn't be made by the courts. They should be made by public health experts.
So, again, I can't -- I'm not going to get ahead of the Department of Justice. We'll let them make any decisions or announcements, but --
Q: So they might still appeal, is what you're saying?
MS. PSAKI: It typically -- yeah, it typically takes a couple of days to review and make an assessment.
Q: If you don't -- I'm sorry, if you don't appeal, do you run the risk of sending the message that all CDC mandates are optional?
MS. PSAKI: I don't want -- I'm not going to prejudge the Department of Justice and how they make considerations or assessments about whether or not they're going to appeal. We obviously feel confident in our authorities here, given we put the mask mandate in place and asked for 15 additional days to evaluate data based on public health information.
Q: Was the administration unprepared for this ruling, given that you're not sure what you're going to do next?
And also, does the confusion around the mask mandate undercut the administration's ability to kind of give people guidance on what is actually the right thing to do at this point?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would -- I would dispute the notion that people are confused. We are here to alleviate their confusion, right?
So, the CDC continues to advise and recommend masks on airplanes. We're abiding by the CDC recommendations, the President is. And we would advise all Americans to do that.
This was a ruling by the court. We obviously didn't have advance notice of it. And it typically takes a couple of days to assess next steps in these cases.
Q: And should the President be speaking -- does the President have plans to speak more about this kind of evolution in how people should protect themselves from COVID, given the sense that precautions are lifting? You know, does he plan to speak out more in providing more guidance and leadership on this issue?
MS. PSAKI: We don't see it as an evolution. We continue to believe that the CDC, which asked for 15 days to evaluate health data and information based on the fact that cases were rising in certain parts of the country -- that that was entirely reasonable, and that they would, at the conclusion of that period of time -- not a lengthy period of time -- be able to make an evaluation.
He also put out a 100-page plan just a couple of weeks ago on how to deal with this moment we are in as we address the virus.
What our biggest concern is right now -- continues to be the fact that we don't have funding from Congress to ensure that we can return to a point where we have programs for the uninsured, we're able to purchased -- purchase treatments for the immunocompromised, ensuring that we continue to be the arsenal of vaccines to the world. Those are our biggest concerns. And, yes, we will speak out about that and he will speak out about that.
Q: On Russia and terrorism.
Q: Is the admi- -- I got one. I got one.
Q: I know you talked about this yesterday.
Q: I got one. Hold on, Jen. On this same issue --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Until we land we're (inaudible).
Q: Yeah, it's my turn.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Jeff.
Q: On the issue of masking and your strategy in general, does the administration feel like your strategies have been thwarted by courts, in general?
And to -- as a follow-up to Nancy's question and to Jennifer's question, if you -- if you're not challenging this, what are the next steps?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, if the Department of Justice makes that decision, we can talk about that. But they haven't made a decision yet. And it typically takes a couple of days -- some time to make that assessment.
What was the first part of your question?
Q: Well, I'm thinking about the fact that I don't think you challenged the ruling that struck down the employer vaccine mandate.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q: So I'm just wondering what -- if you're not going to challenge these things when they -- when they get stepped out, at least in that example -- we don't know what's going to happen with this one -- what's the next step?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we're not going to prejudge what the Department of Justice decides.
I will say, on the employer mandate, what we did was we continued to encourage private sector companies to put in place requirements that would keep their communities safe. And there were a lot of big companies that had already done that -- including airlines, by the way; including big hospital systems around the country -- and done that effectively, efficiently without having a big drop-off of employees in their workforce.
So in this case, even as there's not a decision yet made by the Department of Justice, we're continuing to encourage people to wear masks in public transit. They'll make that decision because it's obviously not being implemented at this moment in time, but we'll continue to abide by CDC guidance.
If the CDC changes their assessment, which certainly at some point they will, we would follow that guidance.
Q: On Russia and terrorism.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q: I know you talked about this a little bit yesterday, but --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q: -- I'm -- and I know you saw CNN is reporting that the U.S. is considering labeling Russia a purveyor of state-sponsored terrorism. Can you talk a little bit about that? Is that true that you are considering that? Tell us a little bit about how that would work out.
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me just take a step back for a second so everybody knows how this process works, which you all may already know.
But for a country to be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism, the Secretary of State would have to determine that the government of that country has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism. And only four countries have been designated to date -- right? -- Cuba, North Korea, Iran, and Syria. The designation is defined by statute, meaning Congress has written into law the exact criteria under which a state would qualify as a state sponsor of terrorism.
So I know my colleague over at the State Department, Ned Price, has said there -- you know, there's a lot of asks that President Zelenskyy has. We're looking at a range of them. I don't have an update on what their process may or may not look like. I would point you to them to speak to that, because it's determined by the statute from Congress, by the State Department.
Q: Jen, how concerned is the White House about the IMF's prediction of seismic, you know, problems for the economy around the world due to Ukraine?
And also, just following on from that, is there a sense that if this goes on, which looks like it will in Ukraine, the fallout for other countries could eventually pressure the alliance the President has been building to, you know, basically dial back a bit even if the Ukrainians want to push on -- maybe, like, try and force them into, you know, reaching a settlement that -- yeah.
MS. PSAKI: Well, okay, on the second question I would say that we've known from the beginning that unity doesn't happen by accident. It requires a great deal of work, a great deal of diplomacy, a great deal of discussion. And that's part of the reason the President had the P+11 call this morning: to continue to keep other countries updated -- whether it's NATO or the G7 or other groups of countries -- on what we're considering in terms of sanctions, what we're considering in terms of military assistance, what other countries are doing. Sometimes there's equipment the Ukrainians want we don't have; we discuss that with them as well.
So that's why there's so much time and effort -- from the President, from the Secretary of State, others -- is being spent on this exactly.
I would say on the IMF projections: You know, I would note that the projection for the United States and our growth still continues to be higher than the vast majority of the world. Right? And that is a sign of the strength of our economy.
But it is true -- and we've said this from the beginning -- that the invasion of Ukraine by President Putin and Russia is going to have a continued impact on the global economy, whether it is on the oil markets or other areas. And certainly, that's something we are aware of, even as the strength of our own economy -- you know, we have a strong basis to build on through this difficult time.
Q: Jen, on the call this morning, the Pentagon has said that they're concerned that the ammunition levels for Ukrainians are getting dangerously low. Was that something that the President brought up in trying to get Allies to provide more ammunition?
MS. PSAKI: I don't -- I can check on that and see if there's anything specifically on ammunition. Certainly, we will continue to provide them more ammunition as we will provide them more military assistance. There's obviously more money we can provide from the approved drawdown package, and the specifics of that are being worked through with the Department of Defense and our national security team. And that, you know, has included ammunition, and I would expect will include a range of weapons moving forward.
Q: One more question on the mask mandate.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q: I understand that the judge's ruling is something that, you know, independent judiciary has made. However, you saw a lot of Americans, you know, immediately pulling off their masks in airplanes, very happy about the change. Is the administration concerned that the public is moving on, you know, without the CDC and that the country is in a different place where the administration is in?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would note, while I've seen those videos, anecdotes are not data. Right? And certainly, that does tell a part of the story. But we don't make these decisions based on politics or based on the political whims on a plane or even in a poll.
But I would note: In polls, they -- and data -- lengthier data -- there are still a lot of people in this country who still want to have masks in place -- either they have immunocompromised relatives, they have kids under five, whatever it may be.
So in the -- even on the pure politics, I don't think there's a concrete story at this point.
Q: Jen, the President is going to, you know, New Hampshire today to talk about infrastructure, selling the benefits of that. He said a few months ago that people didn't want to see him being a "Senator-President" anymore. They want to see him getting out there, and his schedule certainly reflects that.
But, you know, the Chief of Staff has talked about the calendar, you know, being short and there being only so many days in the calendar to do things.
Is he, at some point, going to come out and talk about what he wants to see in, potentially, a skinny Build Back Better bill, given that time is of the essence with that?
And we haven't heard from him really -- anything about the, you know, negotiations and the talks. Is he going to come out and sort of put a marker down, or is the fact that he hasn't come out and maybe won't come out sort of a sign that maybe that's not really going anywhere?
MS. PSAKI: I would say, first, one of the decisions he also made -- the President, that is -- is that he wasn't going to talk a lot publicly, because he didn't feel it was advantageous to getting things done, about his conversations with members of all political stripes. And just because he's not talking about it doesn't mean those conversations are not happening behind the scenes.
And as it relates to not being a senator -- or not being the "President-Senator" -- I think is that -- how you said it -- I mean, going out in the country today and out later this week is a reflection of that. Going out and talking about the impacts of his policies and his agenda on the American people -- in New Hampshire, out on the West Coast -- that's exactly our effort to do that and not being holed up in the Oval Office having congressional negotiations.
Q: Should we assume that if there's no one out there sort of talking about a new BBB bill, that there isn't an agreement yet?
MS. PSAKI: I think if we had a bill that was ready to pass with 50 votes, we would make that clear. So the -- but there's a range of ongoing negotiations and discussions with senators amongst themselves, a lot of them -- a lot -- there's a great deal of support for moving an agenda forward that lowers costs for the American people.
So, not having a public speech from the President is not a reflection of what's happening behind the scenes. There's actually a strategic decision made not to have public updates about behind-the-scenes conversations.
Q: Jen, on Title 42, there are some Democratic senators -- including Senator Hassan, Senator Peters -- who have expressed concerns about what happens, what comes next after Title 42 lapses. And I know you said yesterday that the answer, if people want changes, is congressional legislation.
(Gaggle interruption.) (Cross-talk.)
Q: You good?
Q: Yeah, I'm good. Thanks.
Q: But it's unlikely that, you know, Congress is going to pass something in the next few months, if at all. So, as an alternative to that, can you tell us anything about any plans that are underway to try to ease the transition to a post-Title 42 --
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I mean, the Sec- -- the Home- -- Department of Homeland Security and the Secretary put out a comprehensive plan for what they were going to do to prepare for any increase in influx. They put that out when we made an announcement about the timeline of implementation. And that's something they're having ongoing discussions with senators, members, and their teams and staff about.
And, certainly, I'm sure they welcome suggestions or different things that can be done. But they did put out a comprehensive plan.
The issue here -- the core issue is that it is being used to tie down and hold back the COVID funding. And our concern here is: Let's have a conversation about immigration. Title 42 is not an immigration policy. That's the point. It's a public health authority that Congress has given the CDC authority to make a determination about. They made the determination.
So, if we want to address immigration, let's have a conversation about that. But let's not hold COVID funding hostage because we're going to have to end a range of programs that are hurt -- going to hurt the American people. That's the issue.
Q: Should we expect any new Russia sanctions this week?
MS. PSAKI: There could be, Jeff. I think that we're still consid- -- making -- doing considerations and running a process for additional sanctions, but there are some under consideration, yes.
Q: Jen, can you tell us anything more about these Cuba-U.S. talks that the Cubans are saying that are happening, I think, tomorrow -- is that right?
MS. PSAKI: Let me get an update on that. I haven't had a chance to talk to the national security team about that.
Q: Also on Ukraine, can you say how much money is left in that drawdown fund that you were talking about? And, obviously, both Schumer and McConnell have been talking about the need for sending more money to Ukraine. Is the White House open to that? Are there discussions about that?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. There's an ongoing discussion with the Ukrainians about what they need, with Congress about what we can provide, and about how to -- and briefings of them -- to them, I should say, about how to spend the remaining drawdown funds.
Q: Which is how much?
MS. PSAKI: I will check on that for you.
Q: One question since we're going to talk about climate in Portland and Seattle. Given that BBB is, you know, still -- we're not sure where the status of that is -- I mean, what can you say about the -- what message the President can send, given that his major climate initiatives are -- they're stalled in legislation as he's trying to draw attention to work on climate this week?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would first say that the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law had an enormous investment in addressing the climate crisis in it, including investing in charging stations for electric vehicles across the country. Never has that ever been done before in that capacity. He has also taken a range of steps, including --
(Air Force One begins landing.)
Oh, we're going to -- okay, we got a few more -- a few more seconds here.
-- with his own authorities, including rallying automakers and auto workers around an electric transportation future; setting a national target of 50 percent electric vehicles sales by 2030; launching the EV Charging Action Plan to deploy $7.5 billion from the Bipartisan Law I mentioned; finalizing the strongest possible passenger vehicle standards in American history; issuing the U.S. Methane Emissions Restriction Action.
The point is: He's not going to wait or delay taking actions to address the climate crisis. We're continuing to fight for the key components that are in Build Back Better. But also, the Infrastructure Law that he's already passed, signed into law, and is implementing has a major investment in climate in it.
Okay, we're about to land. All right. Everybody brace for landing.
Q: Speaking of (inaudible) calendars, have you heard the President weigh in on which states he would prefer to go first in the nominating process? Has he talked about that at all, as far as --
MS. PSAKI: There's a DNC process, and we trust that process to take place and move forward.
Q: And so the President hasn't weighed in, as far as you know, on --
MS. PSAKI: We're relying on the DNC process.
Q: So he has no preference?
MS. PSAKI: We're relying on the DNC process.
Q: Has he talked to the DNC Chairman about it at all?
MS. PSAKI: I don't have any updates on private conversations.
Okay. Thanks, everyone.
1:33 P.M. EDT
Joseph R. Biden, Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jen Psaki Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/355476