Source: The Whitehouse
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:43 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. All right. Just wanted to start with one topper for all of you.
President Biden has directed the administration to work urgently to ensure that infant formula is safe and available for families across the country during the Abbott Nutrition voluntary recall. This has been — this is work that’s been underway for months.
Today, President Biden spoke with retailers and manufacturers, including the CEOs of Walmart, Target, Reckitt, and Gerber to call on them to do more to help families purchase infant formula.
He discussed Reckitt and Gerber’s efforts to increase production, which have made up for the loss of production by Abbott, and asked them to identify other ways the administration can help them on top of the actions being announced today.
The conversation with the CEOs of Walmart and Target focused on how they are working to stock shelves, including in rural areas, and any regional disparities they are seeing. And the President asked what more his team can do to help move product and get more product to those communities. He also announced additional steps to get infant formula onto store shelves as quickly as possible without compromising safety.
These steps include cutting red tape to get more infant formula to store shelves quicker by urging states to provide consumers flexibility on the types of formula they can buy with WIC dollars; calling on the FTC and state attorneys general to crack down on any price gouging or unfair market practices related to sales of infant formula, like third-party sellers reselling formula at steep prices; and increasing the supply of formula through increased exports — imports.
The Biden-Harris administration will continue to monitor this situation and identify other ways we can support the safe and rapid increase in the production and distribution of baby formula.
Today, we also marked — and you heard the President do this, this morning — a tragic milestone in the United States: 1 million lives lost due to COVID-19. Our hearts go out to those grieving a loved one and those families forever changed because of the pandemic.
As the President said this morning, we cannot grow numb to the urgency of this crisis. It is critical that we honor those who have been lost by doing everything we can to prevent as many deaths as possible. You saw that this morning from the President as he kicked off the COVID-19 Summit.
Today’s summit highlighted American leadership in action. Together with our co-hosting nations, we — we united the world to commit to vaccinating the — to vaccinating the world, saving lives, and building better health security with an inspiring response. We rallied $3 billion from other nations — more than three — 3.2 at this point in time, still counting — from other nations and partners around the world to address the global response.
And the President issued a stark warning about our ability to continue fighting COVID globally if Congress fails to act. As we heard through the summit, now is not the time for complacency. We need Congress to show up not with empty words, but with action, to fight COVID at home and abroad.
As we mark this tragic milestone, our hope is to avoid another tragic one like this, and that will only come if we act with urgency throughout the remaining fight against the pandemic.
Go ahead, Josh.
Q Thanks, Jen. Two questions. First, on the baby formula. Abbott says once the FDA gives them notice, it’ll take them two weeks to restart the site and then an additional six to eight weeks to get formula on the shelves. With what the President heard today, does he believe that we’ll have the tools to bridge what could be a two-month-plus shortage?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that the President is going to continue to use every tool we have in order to bridge that gap. And this has been work that has been underway for weeks and months now.
We know that as — if they get approval, obviously, as you noted, it will take them some time to get up and running again. So what we need to do, and what you’ve seen the President announce earlier today and I just reiterated, is steps we can take from here to increase supply, make sure it’s on the shelves. That includes increasing imports. It also includes ensuring we’re working with retailers, as the President did during his calls, to make sure that shelves are stocked. It also includes ensuring that lower-income families can access different brands of baby formula by working through — with the WIC — for the exemptions for the WIC program.
So, we recognize that this is certainly a challenge for people across the country, something the President is very focused on. And we’re going to do everything we can to cut red tape and take steps to increase supply on the marketplace.
Q Secondly, AAA is saying, you know, record-high nominal gasoline prices again today, but Americans are also seeing news about oil leases and auctions not going forward. What was the administration’s thinking on not having those auctions?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the Department of Interior, who — they have put out some comments on this. And what they have made quite clear is that the Cook Inlet cancellation, which you’re referring to, was due to a lack of industry interest. And the Gulf sales were as a result of delays due to a number of factors, including conflicting court rulings. So those were the two areas where you’ve seen the pause. But there was not interest.
I would note that if we take a step back and look at what is available out there and look at the supply needed, as you noted at the top of — as part of your question, leasing and production offshore is a lengthier process. It can take up to 10 years to create supply. So, let’s start there.
Secondly, of the more than 10.9 million offshore acres currently under lease, industry is not producing on 8.26 million acres. That’s about seven point — 75 — more than 75 percent that is non-producing. Of the 24.9 million onshore acres under lease, industry is not producing on 12.3 million acres. That’s almost 50 percent. And there are also over 9,000 onshore permits that have been approved and are waiting to be used onshore.
So, just to reiterate what we expect: U.S. production is expected to increase by over 1 million barrels a day this year and hit a new record — record next year. This — these specific actions were as a result of lack of industry interest and a — and conflicting court rulings.
Q Thank you. I guess, sort of the bottom line is, you know — on formula — this is a problem. I mean, I think other parents here in the room can probably attest. I, myself, went to three stores this morning, still haven’t found what — what we need. When will parents be able to get the formula they need? What is your best sense of when store shelves will be stocked again?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s also important to note that the reason we’re here is because the FDA took a step to ensure that babies were taking safe formula. There were babies who died from taking this formula, so they were doing their jobs.
We have been working — this administration has been working for weeks now to address in anticipation of where we thought there could be shortages. We have also seen an increase over the last four weeks of supply available, which has been an increase over the four weeks prior to the recall. That is a good sign.
But obviously the steps the President took today are an acknowledgement and a recognition that more needs to be done, that we do not want parents, mothers, families out there to be stressed and worried about feeding their babies. That is why the President today had conversations with the CEOs of Walmart and Target, why he had conversations with Reckitt and Gerber about efforts to increase production, why we’re taking steps to ensure that we are making — we are making WIC dollars available to a range of other supply.
So, we’re working. We’re seeing increases over the last couple of weeks. More needs to be done. We’re going to cut every element of red tape we can cut. We’re going to work with manufacturers. We’re going to import more to expedite this as quickly as possible.
Q But if you are a parent who is looking for formula right now, struggling to find what you need, do you have even a rough guess of how long these shortages are going to last? What should parents be bracing for here?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve already seen an increase in supply over the past couple of weeks. What we are seeing, which is an enormous problem, is hoarding. People hoarding because they’re fearful — that is one element of it — and people hoarding because they are trying to profit off of fearful parents. So that is also something we’re focused on taking efforts to track and adjust — and address and look into.
But again, more infant formula has been produced in the last four weeks than in the four weeks preceding the recall. We’re taking every step to increase that.
So, our message to parents is: We hear you, we want to do everything we can, and we’re going to cut every element of red tape to help address this and make it better for you to get formula on the shelves.
Q And as you mentioned, this obviously stems from the FDA taking necessary steps to try and deal with a very serious problem. And as Josh noted, you know, Abbott says that “subject to FDA approval,” they could restart at this site “within two weeks.” Do you have a sense of why it may be taking so long to get this factory back up and running or what the holdup is from the FDA’s perspective?
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the FDA. But, again, I’d go back to why this decision was made in the first place, which was to save babies’ lives. And the FDA is not going to approve manufacturing again unless they are certain of the safety.
Q When the President spoke with Philippines’ President-Elect Ferdinand Marcos last night, did they discuss either the dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea or the court — U.S. court judgments against the president-elect?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of those being a part of the discussion, but I can check and see after the briefing if there’s more details.
Q Thank you. And then, on NATO: If Finland and Sweden are successful in their attempts to join NATO, that would put the U.S. on the hook, again, for military — defending those countries, even potentially with nuclear weapons. What benefit is that to U.S. citizens?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me say that we would support — the United States would support a NATO application by Finland and/or Sweden should they choose to apply. We, of course, will respect whatever decision they make. Both Finland and Sweden are close and valued defense partners of the United States and of NATO.
I would note that even without them being members of NATO, our militaries have worked together for many years. We’re confident that we can find ways to work with them, address any concerns either country may have about the period now or whatever is required if they were to join NATO.
I would say, in terms of how this benefits the American people — I think is sort of what you’re asking about — having a strong NATO Alliance, a strong Western alliance — which is a defensive alliance, by the way — is good for our security around the world. And certainly, having a strong partnership with a range of countries, including Sweden and Finland, if they decide to join, should be reassuring to the American people about our own security interests.
Q And then, finally, when the President visits South Korea next week, does he intend to visit the demilitarized zone? And what’s your current assessment of the threat of a North Korean nuclear test?
MS. PSAKI: Well, on the first question, we’re still finalizing details of the schedule for the trip and what it looks like. Obviously, that is a step that is taken by many who visit the region. But I expect we’ll have our National Security Advisor here in the briefing room next week with Karine to preview the trip.
In terms of whether we expect a test, we — the United States assesses that the Democratic Repub- — People’s Republic of Korea could be ready to conduct a test there as early as this month. This would be its seventh such test. We’ve shared this information with allies and partners and are closely coordinating with them.
As you noted, the President is traveling to the Republic of Korea and Japan next week, where he will continue strengthening these alliances and make clear our commitments to the security of the Republic of Korea.
Our intelligence assessment is consistent with the DPRK’s recent public statements and destabilizing actions, including the test launch of multiple intercontinental ballistic missiles.
But this is information, again, we’ve shared with our partners and allies and, of course, will certainly be a topic of discussion when the President travels next week.
Q Just one more on the baby formula shortage.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Obviously, some parents are feeling panicked and they’re feeling desperate. And a big reason for that is because there’s no substitute for formula if you don’t have access to breast milk.
I’m just wondering: If you’re a parent today and you go to the store, you can’t find any formula on the shelves, as is being reported across the country, what is the step that they should take? What is the administration’s guidance on the immediate step that they should take? Is there a hotline that they can call? Should they take a baby to the hospital? What should they do?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say those are important public health questions. But what I can report on here, or what I can convey to all of you, is what we’re doing to address exactly that concern, which is taking every step we can to ensure there is supply on store shelves, and we have increased the supply over the last four weeks.
And as the President — as I noted at the top of this briefing, we’re going to take every step we can to cut red tape, to ensure we’re working with retailers like Walmart and CEOs, that we’re working with Reckitt and Gerber and others who can produce more to ensure we are getting supply out to stores and out to retailers so that parents don’t have that concern.
But beyond that, that’s what I can read out for all of you from here.
Q Since you said it was a public health question, which agency should that question be directed to — just the very practical, immediate question of: If you can’t find formula and you need it for your baby to eat, what should they be doing?
MS. PSAKI: We would certainly encourage any parent who has concerns about their child’s health or wellbeing to call their doctor or pediatrician.
Q I just had one more.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Just quickly on the student loan debt cancellation, can you give us a sense of whether the President is any closer to making a decision and just sort of his frame of mind as he’s thinking about what amount he would be willing to cancel?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think as I’ve mentioned in here before, on the campaign, when he was talking about student loans, he talked about a frame of about $125,000 a year. That is not related to necessarily what this final policy will look like, but I’ve used that as a point of reference to remind everyone — some who covered the campaign and some who did not — that he’s always felt it should be targeted, this type of relief, and focused on the people who need help the most.
I don’t have any update on a final decision. I would remind you all that, again, no one has paid a dime in federal student loans since the President took office, and he’s continuing to consider a range of options and policy here.
Q On the formula shortage, just two quick ones. You said that this has been something that’s been in the works for several months, mostly through the FDA. When was the first time the President was briefed on the shortage?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into internal briefings. He’s been made aware of it through the process. And there’s been steps —
Q Before this week?
MS. PSAKI: It would have been, yes.
Q Okay. Has there been any consideration of using the Defense Production Act to accelerate production?
MS. PSAKI: There are a range of — there are a range of options, including that, under consideration, Ed. But I would note the issue here is that a manufacturer was taken offline because they did not produce a safe baby formula.
So what we’re doing here at this point in time is working with other manufacturers who can produce safe baby formula. And we’ve had success in increasing our productivity — their productivity over the last four weeks, and we’re going to continue to work on that.
Q But he would have known about this before this week. It wasn’t like this suddenly popped up.
MS. PSAKI: This has been something the administration has been working on for some time now.
Q Okay. On Ukraine: Senator Rand Paul has delayed passage of the aid for Ukraine by insisting a new inse- — inspector general be established to track how the taxpayer money is being spent on the war. It’s going to delay passage of this probably now until next week. Would the President support establishing some kind of watchdog office to track this? We’ve asked about this before; it’s now a congressional issue. Any consideration of that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that we agree oversight is critical. That’s why the package already includes millions of dollars to support additional oversight measures, including additional funding for existing inspectors general. And we encourage all senators to promptly pass the bill as it stands. We feel what’s in there is sufficient.
Q And one other thing that was left out of it, at least in the House, was an attempt to legalize the status of tens of thousands of Afghan evacuees brought into the U.S. last year.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Does the White House see opportunity somewhere else soon to convince Congress to get that across the finish line?
MS. PSAKI: We have been having conversations with congressional leadership about this — they are ongoing — on the best path forward for this and other priorities that were not included in the package.
We know this bill sends a clear message to Ukraine, to Russia, and to the world that we stand with the people of Ukraine. It doesn’t mean every component of it has everything we want in it, including that as an example. But it’s important to move it forward.
Go ahead, Jacqui.
Q Thank you, Jen. A couple of quick follow-ups on baby formula and then I want to get to something else.
It does seem like we should have seen this coming that maybe the FDA could have done more on the baby formula shortage. The whistleblower who used to work at that Sturgis plant warned the FDA top officials about safety concerns in October, but they didn’t interview that whistleblower until December. The inspection was until January 31st. The recall happened February 17th. So is that timeline acceptable to the White House? And if not, what is the White House doing to correct that at the FDA?
MS. PSAKI: I’m sure there will be plenty of time to take a look at if there are any issues that could have been improved here. I don’t have any specific analysis of that at this moment in time.
What I will note is that there has been work ongoing on this for months. That’s how we increase the supply and how we’re able to, you know, increase the sales based on the month of April overall.
But there’s more that needs to be done. Clearly, we don’t want any parent to fear about not being able to provide formula to their child. And as I noted at the top, the President is, you know, leaving no stone unturned in addressing this.
Q I didn’t see anything in the factsheet related to possible antitrust concerns. According to one report, 89 percent of the market is controlled by four companies. I know the President has tried to increase competition in other areas where it’s consolidated, like meatpacking. So is there going to be any call for increased competition in that industry coming from the White House?
MS. PSAKI: Jacqui, it’s a good question. I have not been made aware of that being a concern here, but I’m happy to raise it and see if there’s more to tell you.
Q And then I wanted to ask — shift gears only slightly —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — to crack pipes.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q You said in February that no money from a $30 million harm reduction program would fund distribution of crack pipes in safe smoking kits. The Washington Free Beacon reported that they went to harm reduction facilities in five cities, and all of those facilities had crack pipes in their kits. HHS would not say which programs had applied for funding, and the recipient list is not out yet. So I’m just wondering if the White House can say if any taxpayer dollars paid for these crack pipes.
MS. PSAKI: No federal funding has gone to it.
Q And is there any oversight to ensure that when that money goes out for the program, that these organizations will not use federal dollars for crack pipes?
MS. PSAKI: This policy does not allow for crack pipes to be included. I would just note that this is a bit of a conspiracy theory that’s been spread out there. It’s not accurate. There’s important drug treatment programs for people who have been suffering from what we’ve seen as an epidemic across the country, and money is not used for crack pipes.
Q And I wanted to ask about the President’s comments last night. He went off about MAGA again.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. MAGA king. King MAGA.
Q Yes. He referred to former President Trump as the “ultra-MAGA king.” He’s been decrying ultra-MAGA Republicans and saying he’s going to be doing it more.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q But Hillary Clinton expressed some regret not too long ago for referring to Trump voters as “deplorables” who couldn’t be redeemed. And considering that Trump got 74 million votes in the last election, I’m just wondering if this is the best strategy for Biden to win people over — win over support ahead of the midterms, especially given his inaugural theme being “America united”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that the President is not afraid to call out what he sees as extreme positions that are out of line with where the American people stand, and whether that is supporting a tax plan that will raise taxes on 75 million Americans making less than $100,000 a year; or whether it is supporting efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade, something that two thirds of the American people in a Fox News Poll, may I add, supported. And there are countless examples from there.
The President believes that there is still work we can do together. The Bipartisan Innovation Act is a good example of that. But, again, he is not going to stand back and stand aside while people are pushing for extreme positions that are not in the interests or supported by the vast majority of the American people.
Q On inflation, today, Ro Khanna — just sort of feeding into his comments about last night — from last night about inflation — and the President was talking about the economy when he was referring to ultra-MAGA. And Ro Khanna said today that “blaming Putin may not be effective.” He said, “We need to say inflation is a real threat. It’s an emergency.”
So it seems like the President has been ratcheting up this rhetoric — you know, blaming Republicans, blaming Putin. We’ve heard all of the reasons why the pandemic is a factor. But Ro Khanna is asking, you know, this White House to call inflation an emergency and call up the National Guard to help with supply chains. Are those things that you’d consider — this White House would consider?
MS. PSAKI: Jacqui, I don’t think anyone doesn’t think inflation is an issue. The President has said that countless times. The question is —
Q Is it an “emergency,” though?
MS. PSAKI: It doesn’t matter what you call it. The President just gave a speech on it yesterday. The issue — the question is what is your plan to address it?
He laid out a very — a multipart plan yesterday. He has taken a range of steps, including steps that he even announced this week to lower the price of high-speed Internet for tens of millions of Americans; to give farmers the tools and resources they need to boost production; to lower the deficit, something that happened on his watch last year, which will help; to release 1 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve; to fix the “family glitch.”
What is the plan on the other side? We all recognize it’s a problem. But if you open the cupboard door, there’s nothing there. And that’s the issue.
Q Jen, the flags are flying at half-staff above the White House and at federal locations across the country. Kristin Urquiza — her dad died in June of 2020. You likely know he was in an Arizona hospital. The only person there to hold his hand in the ICU was the nurse. She is now the founder of a group called “Marked By COVID.” They have about 100,000 members right now. They’re advocating for a National Day of Remembrance — a COVID Memorial Day of sorts. Does the President support a national day of remembrance, a COVID Memorial Day?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Peter, I would say that we’re still in a fight against COVID and a battle against COVID. There are still far too many people getting sick, getting hospitalized, and dying. And this is not the last time we will commemorate or the last step that the President will take to commemorate. But I don’t have anything to predict about the future.
Q I imagine the same applies to a COVID monument. Right? You don’t have any decisions made on that?
MS. PSAKI: Those are all important questions. And as the President has said before, people who have lost loved ones — obviously, a million lives have been lost; there are a lot of people across this country still in mourning. He recognizes that. We need to continue to commemorate that. But we’re still a fight — in a fight with the virus.
Q So on this day, 1 million American lives lost, an unimaginable figure. Only two-plus years ago at 400,000 lives lost, the President — then President-Elect and Vice President-Elect — were there at the Lincoln Memorial — 400 lights for 400,000 lives. For 500,000 lives lost, there was a moment of silence on the South Lawn.
Today was a bit different. His only public comments were prerecorded remarks to the Global COVID Summit. I guess I’m asking why not a more prominent remembrance for today’s anniversary — for today’s marking?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say first, the President publicly addressed this day and marked it. We also lowered the flags for five days — they will be lowered for five days. And we will continue to mark and commemorate the lives lost.
What people care about — the country — though most is our action and what actions the President will continue to take. And, obviously, since he took office, according to a Yale study, it’s estimated we’ve saved over 2.2 million American lives and $900 billion in healthcare costs.
There’s more work that needs to be done, more work to fight misinformation, more work to get more people vaccinated. And action is what people care about.
Q And people care about transparency, as you indicate as well. So my last question on this topic is: Can you help people better understand what data Dr. Ashish Jha was pointing to when he warned that the U.S. could potentially see 100 million infections in the U.S. if COVID relief isn’t passed now — over the course of the fall and winter waves expected?
MS. PSAKI: There’s a range of studies that are ongoing. Dr. Jha talks to a range of people internally — health experts — and externally. And this is in the range of what they have conveyed to him directly. And I expect there’ll be more studies that come out in the coming months.
Q Thanks, Jen. As you know, North Korea is on lockdown because a case of COVID there.
MS. PSAKI: Just one case?
MS. PSAKI: Remarkable.
Q The country — (laughter) — the country has previously rejected offers from COVAX for vaccinations. I’m wondering if the White House will launch a renewed push to try to get vaccines to North Korea. Obviously, almost their entire population — or their entire population has not been vaccinated.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, you’re right. And as you noted, the DPRK has repeatedly refused vaccine donations from COVAX. We do not — the United States does not currently have plans to share vaccines with the DPRK. We do continue to support international efforts aimed at the provision of critical humanitarian aid to the most vulnerable North Koreans.
And this is, of course, a broader part of the DPRK continuing to exploit its own citizens by not accepting this type of aid. As you know, it’s not just vaccines; it’s also a range of humanitarian assistance that could very much help the people in the country. And instead, they divert resources to build their unlawful nuclear and ballistic missiles programs.
But, yes, we support international efforts. No current plans for the U.S. to donate sp- — you know, from the United States supply.
Q And then just briefly on crypto. As you know, the crypto market is in something of a tailspin. There has been an executive order that was put out in March to look into regulations and study the issue. Does — does the process need to be sped up now, given what we’re seeing?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that was significant at the time — I know, it was, you know, only about two months ago — because there had not been an acknowledgement about the need to look into crypto — both the benefits and the challenges. And it’s an ongoing effort to do exactly that.
I know that those who are running it from the Department of Treasury and otherwise want to make sure it’s thorough and that they’re assessing both of those important questions: the opportunities and the challenges. So I would point you to them on whether there could be any effort to expedite or whether that’s possible.
Q Rory Hu is from Nick News.
MS. PSAKI: I know Rory. We’ve met.
Q I know. She’s excited.
MS. PSAKI: Rory, go ahead.
Q Hi. I just have a question and a follow-up. So, first, there are concerns about the negative impacts of social media on the mental health of children. Will the White House take any actions to prevent these adverse effects?
MS. PSAKI: As a mom myself, Rory — my daughter is younger than you; she’d think you were very hip and cool, no doubt — this is a huge concern that I have, we have, the President has — is the impact of social media platforms, their enormous power, and the fact that it is largely unchecked.
It is certainly something that our Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, has talked about, in terms of the impact of social media platforms and what the impact they’re having on the mental health, the self-esteem of young people. And so, I would say the President, the First Lady, all of us believe that more needs to be done.
Q And the Internet has become a tool for children’s education. A lot of students use the Internet to learn. So how will the White House prevent children from getting misinformed from the Internet?
MS. PSAKI: Such a good question, too. Well, I know reporters, like yourself, and people that other kids listen to are good voices to provide accurate information. And you ask — coming here and asking tough questions is an important part of that.
I would say that, you know, one of the things that we encourage parents to do is, you know, make sure you are educating yourself on all of these platforms and what information is available, and working with your kids to make sure they understand what’s accurate and inaccurate.
There are certainly steps the government can take. But there’s also an ongoing development of new tools. And we, as parents, need to keep educating ourselves about what’s out there so we can make sure our kids have access to good information, informative information — we watch a lot of animal videos in my house; that’s all good and positive — and not access to information that’s inaccurate and misleading or problematic.
Q Thanks. She’s much better than Portnoy. So — (laughter) —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. Hard con- — hard confirm. (Laughter.)
Q Our friends at Reuters reported that there’s no executive order being drafted to give HHS and DOJ new powers to block Chinese access to vulnerable — to Americans’ sensitive information. And so, I was wondering if you have a sense of timeline on this. But also, the idea that there’s been frustration with the administration — frustration within the administration over some of the slow-walking at Commerce on rulemaking and investigations that that may have prompted this action by the President.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that, certainly, the protection of the privacy of American citizens and ensuring that no foreign actors, whether state owned or otherwise, have access to the information of Americans is of utmost concern to the President and to our National Security Advisor and others.
These processes can take some time to develop, to investigate, to finalize. It’s not a surprise if there is a frustration by anyone who’s a part of that process. But I can’t speak to that from here. But I can tell you, certainly, ensuring we are protecting Americans’ privacy is of utmost concern to the President.
Q A minister in the Bolsonaro government said that he may skip the Summit of the Americas coming up because he wants to campaign. If he is not going, Mexico says that they may not go, and because Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua may not be invited. Are we reaching a point where the summit may no longer be successful because so many key leaders in the hemisphere — even though ones, obviously, that the President has had key disagreements with — won’t be attending?
MS. PSAKI: Well, no invitations have gone out for the summit, so that is obviously something that will happen in short order, given the summit is coming up in June.
I would note that Secretary of State Tony Blinken spoke today with his counterparts and reiterated not only his appreciation for the continued collaboration we have with Mexico but also noted that Special Advisor for the Summit of the Americas, Christopher Dodd, will travel to Mexico later this month to further discuss preparations for the summit.
So these conversations are ongoing. Obviously, important questions about what the final invitation list will look like. We are certainly eager to host the summit, something that, you know, is our highest priority for the hemisphere. And it would be an important opportunity to talk about a range of issues, including democracy, including climate goals, including the COVID-19 response, and addressing the root causes of migration.
So we are fully planning and moving forward, but no final decisions about the invites have been made yet.
Q And then a last one: There was a report earlier this week that the President may be meeting with or speaking to the King of Jordan. Obviously, also, I think we asked last week about this possibility of a regional summit in Israel. So I’m wondering if you could confirm either of those things, and, specifically on the last, whether Saudi Arabia is being weighed as a participant in that summit — oil production obviously a kind of primary concern for many Americans right now.
MS. PSAKI: Yes. Okay. First, yes, he will be meeting with the King of Jordan. I can get you the details of that after the briefing.
And on the second part of your question, I think you’re referring to what his travel might look like in June around the other summits. We’re still finalizing what that looks like. There have been good questions about whether or not he will go to Israel, given he has committed to Prime Minister — or, accepted the invitation of Prime Minister Bennett. But that trip — we’re not quite there yet. We’re still finalizing the next trip.
We have had senior members of the national security team travel to Saudi Arabia to talk about a range of issues, including regional cooperation, obviously the war in Yemen, and supply on the global marketplace.
But I don’t have anything to predict in terms of an upcoming visit by the President.
Q Yeah, back on infant formula, Senator Gillibrand, in an interview with NPR, said that this is a “life or death issue” and that the other companies aren’t stepping up, they aren’t producing as much formula as they should or could be, and that she is going to ask the President to invoke the Defense Production Act on this. Is that the kind of request that will be entertained?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, we’re exploring every option. I think when you look at the Defense Production Act, you have to ensure that it would actually achieve what you’re trying to achieve. And so we’re also looking at that, as well.
And we have been working — this is one of the reasons, obviously, the President called CEOs today of some of these vital companies to determine what more can be done, because we know that with one major supplier having part of their supply off the marketplace, the — one of the easiest and fastest ways to address that is to increase supply from some of the other suppliers, and, also, to import more, which is a step we’re working to take as well.
Q They didn’t happen to ask him to invoke the Defense Production Act, did they? When —
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of that being a specific ask from them. I can see if there’s more to read out from the — from the calls as well.
Q Okay. And just quickly on the COVID deaths: Going back to the group Marked By COVID, they’re also asking the President to meet with people who’ve lost loved ones to, you know, express his empathy and also sort of feel what they’re feeling. When is the last time he met with the loved ones of people who have died from COVID? And would he consider such a meeting?
MS. PSAKI: He certainly would. And I think there — even people who may not like the President may — probably would not question his level of empathy and compassion for people who have lost loved ones. And certainly, addressing and talking about that impact is something you hear him do every time — nearly every time he talks about COVID.
He certainly would be open to doing that. I don’t have anything to predict in terms of the future schedule, but yes.
Q Jen, two of the — or, some of the steps, at least two of them, announced today on infant formula seem like things that could have been announced and steps that could have been taken earlier. And any woman following this on any mom’s list or whatever has known of rumblings of this crisis since nearly the plant shut down in February. Why — why did it take so long to announce the steps you announced today?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, some of these steps we’ve been working on, just because we haven’t been announcing them publicly, including increasing supply and working with producers and suppliers.
Some of the challenges we’re also seeing — let me just note it, and I noted this a little bit earlier — is this hoarding issue. And we are also — have been also calling on retailers to impose purchasing limits to prevent the possibility of hoarding, because we know that that is an issue.
Again, sometimes it’s people who are fearful, but — which is understandable. But also — it is also — there’s an element of people who are trying to benefit financially off of that fear, which is where we have a concern.
But since the reca- — recall, we’ve been working nonstop to address and alleviate supply issues by working with these retailers, engaging with the FDA on additional steps we could take, and obviously, we’re talking about laying all the specifics out now.
Q And briefly, on a different topic of “ultra-MAGA” — now, you saw Representative Elise Stefanik saying, “I’m ultra-MAGA, and I’m proud of it.” Former Trump super PAC blasted out a t-shirt of him as an ultra-MAGA Superman. He, on his own Twitter-alternative platform, released a meme of him as the ultra-MAGA king.
I guess I’m curious what the administration makes of Republicans and the former President sort of co-opting this and elevating what President Biden clearly intended as a pejorative.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think if that means that the individuals you’ve mentioned are embracing their opposition to a woman’s right to make choices about her own healthcare, if they’re embracing a plan that will raise taxes on 75 million Americans, if they’re embracing the importance of fighting Mickey Mouse over virtually any other issue, I guess that’s their platform. Good for them. We’re happy to have a debate about that.
Q Jen, at the risk of sending you back to your State Department days, I was wondering if you could come back to the embrace of Sweden and —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — Finland for NATO, and walk us through the distinction now between their qualifications and Ukraine, now that we have invested so much more heavily in making sure that Ukraine remains an independent state and that it irreversibly could not be invaded again.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would leave that to my NATO spokesperson colleague to speak to. What I would say, David, is that what we support is a NATO application by Finland or Sweden should they choose to apply. We know that they have been close and valued defense partners. There are a range of requirements I’m sure my NATO counterparts could speak to, including addressing a range of issues like corruption and how you would participate in the defense of the collective NATO Alliance.
But I will let them to speak — speak to that. We, of course, support the NATO’s — NATO’s open-door policy and the aspirations of any country to apply to join.
But I think this speaks to our longstanding relationship and military partnerships with Finland and Sweden.
Q So you’re saying that for Finland and Sweden, you’re supporting their application, their right to apply, but you’re not embracing yet whether or not you would actually vote (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: We would support a NATO application by Finland and Sweden, yeah.
Q Okay. And then take that — the next step for us, if you can, which is to say that — you’ve heard what the Russians — how they reacted to this. Given the debate that took place back in the — 15, 20 years ago about expanding NATO, and the President’s concerns at that time, does he think that expanding it again just risks further provocation here? And is that — is the benefit at this point of having them in the Alliance greater than the risk of the provocation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would go — I would just like to quote the President of Finland and what he said — which I don’t think I could state it better — in response to this question, which is: “As it relates to Russia, you caused this. Look at the mirror.”
And, you know, that is — NATO is a defensive alliance. It’s not an offensive alliance. Both Finland and Sweden are close and valued defense partners of the United States and NATO. They’re thriving democracies. They’ve worked closely with NATO for years. There’s no aggressive intent from NATO, from the United States, from Finland or Sweden — obviously they can speak for themselves — to Russia.
But again, this is President Putin who caused this. “Look at the mirror.” And I think that also probably is the reason for what you’ve seen as public support for joining NATO increase in these countries as well.
Q Thanks, Jen. One on the COVID Summit, and then, if I can, a follow-up —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — to what Tam was asking about the DPA.
During the summit today, did the U.S. hear any concerns from other countries about the delay in securing U.S. funding for the global effort or that there’s a potential that that funding will not come through if Congress doesn’t move forward on it?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a thorough readout, and I’d point you to other countries to speak to what they did or didn’t express.
I would note that the Vice President, in her comments, specifically highlighted the need to get additional funding, including the $5 billion that is up for international COVID relief, which is part of the $22.5 [billion] we requested.
And she did that because there’s a recognition, an acknowledgement that we want to continue to be part of this effort to continue to lead this effort. And without that funding, we won’t be as well positioned.
I would note that what is a success from this summit is, of course, the fact that we have been able to put together $3.2 billion in contributions from a range of countries attending to this global effort. And that is part of — was part of the purpose to ensure that we were elevating this, working together, coordinating, you know, to prevent complacency, to prevent deaths, to prevent and plan for future variants.
And that kind of money from other countries is an important step forward.
Q And to follow up on the DPA question: Obviously, baby formula is a very specific product. But is there a lesson that can be learned from the COVID supplies of PPE and vaccines and scaling up production that the administration could apply to this situation right now?
MS. PSAKI: That’s a very good question, Karen. I think one of the challenges in this cycle of the supplies here is that companies are going to produce what the market needs. Right? And if you look at things like tests or masks — you know, back in the fall — remember? — we had a shortage of tests. This summer, we had an abundance of tests to the point where companies were shutting down manufacturing.
So, the challenge is — is that it’s about what the demand is in the marketplace. And obviously, now there’s high demand because there’s a shortage because of this recall, which was done, again, to save babies’ lives.
And, you know, clearly, our efforts and focus now is on increasing supply from other suppliers and importing more so that we can meet the current demand and needs now.
Q Thank you so much. Another one on baby formula — that families with babies who are sick and relying on specialty mix —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — and that I understand that are only manufactured in this plant that is offline now. So what’s the plan for those families?
MS. PSAKI: I addressed this a little bit yesterday or the day before — I guess it was the day before — which is: Part of our effort is to ensure and work with other suppliers, who can ma- — who make baby formula, who can meet the same needs of children who have special needs or who have specific needs for what formula they can take to ensure that supply is on the marketplace as well.
Q Okay. And just on this —
MS. PSAKI: And the FDA has been doing that, but go ahead.
Q On this whole supply chain issue, we often hear the President saying the solution to supply chain problems is to produce in the United States. In this case, we have a product that is manufactured, I think, 98 percent in the United States. So how do you reconcile these two messages — you know, “Made in America”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there — because the reason for this shortage is not because there was a supply chain issue in a foreign country. That’s a different issue. That’s one supply chain issue.
This issue is because there was unsafe product that the FDA recalled to save babies’ lives. So, it’s just a different issue.
Q Thank you. A senior administration official yesterday said that the President’s trip to South Korea and Japan later this month is part of his plans to (inaudible) policy. And he’s the first administration to be — raise it to the leadership level. Does the President have plans to visit the other two countries — India and Australia — and when that is going to —
MS. PSAKI: I’m sure he will in the future, but we have two foreign trips we’re still trying to finalize at this point, and so I don’t have any predictions about when.
Q Is it going to be in the first term of the President?
MS. PSAKI: I can’t make a prediction of that. But there’s a lot of time left in the first term, so that’s the good news. A lot of time for travel.
Q And the second question, what is U.S. expectations from India on the two wars the world is fighting — one is the Ukraine war, the other is COVID-19?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we continue to remain in close touch with India about, you know, our efforts to rally the world, to stand up against Russian aggression. That means implementing and abiding by sanctions that have been put in place. And as you know, Daleep took a trip — our Deputy National Security Advisor took a trip just a few weeks ago there to have a conversation about that.
We continue to encourage countries to speak out about Russian aggression. And obviously, on COVID-19, we’ve been an important partner with India in providing supply and vaccines and needs — in their times of need over the course of the last 15 months, and certainly we’ll continue to work with them on that.
Q Thanks, Jen. One on Finland, one on Israel. When Russia threatened military technical means against Ukraine many months ago, you were sounding the alarm bells, you were doing very specific projections as to what the Russians were going to do. They invoked that term again after Finland’s announcement. What do you make of it? What are your concerns about Russia’s response to this?
MS. PSAKI: About Russia’s con- —
Q About Russia’s response to a Finnish application for NATO membership.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that the facts are important here, which is that NATO is a defensive alliance. NATO has no aggressive intent, again- — against Russia, nor does the United States, nor do Finland and Sweden. We have long supported — before the invasion, after the invasion — the open-door policy.
And certainly, given Finland and Sweden are — have longstanding important partnerships with the United States, with NATO countries. They’re longstanding democracies. That’s why we support their application.
But, you know, beyond that, I think it’s important to note what the facts are here, which is that there’s no aggressive intent at all.
Q On the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh in Jenin, you called for an investigation — a swift investigation. I guess the question is: What kind of investigation? The Israelis have extended an offer for the Palestinians to participate in a joint investigation. Should they be accepting that offer?
And they’ve also asked for U.S. oversight over some examination of, for example, the bullet that killed Shireen. You know, what — have you responded to that offer? What would you like to see?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we understand that both Israel and the Palestinian Authority are already conducting investigations into the circumstances of the killing. We encourage both parties to do so thoroughly and transparently and to share their findings to ensure that all evidence in this case is available and fully assessed.
We stand ready to assist either party in any way that we can. Neither side has asked for our assistance at this time, and such a request would be required in order for us to do so.
Q So, as part of this ultra-MAGA rollout, the President has talked a lot about, sort of, what the Republican — what he thinks the Republican Party now stands for. He’s also, you know, thrown out some tough language, saying they were “petty” and “mean spirited” and, sort of, cowering to former President Trump. Does he — but he’s also said he’s been surprised by that. Does he still feel like the fever will break in Washington?
MS. PSAKI: Well, you mean, in terms of the ultra-MAGA followers of the former president?
Q Just in terms of if ultra-MAGA, you know, as he says, controls the party, that would be the party that he thought would come around.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I just want to make sure I understand your question.
MS. PSAKI: Are you asking me if he thinks that there will ever be a period of time where there will not be a ultra-MAGA party or if —
Q Does he does he feel like there will be a period in time when he is president in which the ultra-MAGA wing of the Republican Party doesn’t control it and that the fever will break in Washington?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s certainly his hope. The President has long believed that Democrats and Republicans can work together — can work together to get things done. He signed 80 bipartisan bal- — bills into law last year. The Bipartisan Innovation Act is something we’re still working to get through.
And his view is that this is a conversation — a lot of it’s happening in Washington. And they are — for the American people and the American public, a lot of these policies that the ultra-MAGA wing, the MAGA King — all the different terminology where the President is using out there — does not align with where the vast majority of the public is, and elected officials should be doing what the vast majority of the public wants them to do.
Q Does the White — I — and excuse me if you guys have already reacted to this: Does the White House have a comment on the latest round of subpoenas by the January 6th commission?
MS. PSAKI: We certainly support the work of the January 6th Committee. We’ll continue to support their work. We believe it’s vital and essential to get to the bottom of what happened on January 6th, one of the darkest days in our democracy. So we’ll continue to support their work.
Q Jen, last question.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, last one.
Q Thanks, Jen. Staying on ultra-MAGA and the Rick Scott —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Obviously, the President himself is not subject to the Hatch Act. But as the midterms start to take over basically everything, can you just talk about how the White House is navigating the distinction between political speech and official events?
MS. PSAKI: For the Pres- — in what the President is doing or how he spends his time?
Q In terms of the appropriateness of making explicitly political or campaign-focused messages during official White House events?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that I am subject to the Hatch Act, as I have noted — in a sternly written letter to me — but the President is not, as you know. And he is the leader of the Democratic Party. He’s also the Commander-in-Chief. He’s also the leader of the free world.
And what he is pointing out is what he sees to be a troubling trend in our democ- — into our country that’s a threat to our democracy, a threat to progress. And certainly, he’s going to continue to draw the contrast for the American people on what the options present.
All right, I’m just going to do Patsy and April, because I — Patsy, go ahead.
Q Thank you, Jen. So, on the U.S.-ASEAN Summit, can you give us a sense of how hard the President will push on the issue of Ukraine? For example, whether the administration will be pushing to include the word “Russia” in the final communiqué. As you know, ASEAN have, so far, avoided using that word on any of their statements on the Ukraine crisis.
And I have a follow-up on Afghanistan, if you don’t mind.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
So, on the ASEAN Summit, Ukraine will absolutely be on the agenda. In terms of what the final communiqué will look like, I don’t expect it will be ready for more than 24 hours. And there’s lots of conversations that need to happen between now and then, so I can’t make a prediction of it.
But I will say that a number of the ASEAN participants have been important partners in calling out the aggressive action of Russia and invading Ukraine, in participating and in supporting sanctions and, certainly, abiding by them. And obviously, the conflict we’re seeing is a unique moment in modern global history. So it will certainly be on the agenda.
Okay. Go ahead. Last thing, and then I’ll go to April. And then I got to go.
Q Can you confirm reports that Jake Sullivan recently met with the chief of the Pakistani spy agency in Washington, D.C.? Can you share anything from that meeting and whether the two sides discussed counterterrorism cooperation in Afghanistan?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any details on that reported meeting. I can certainly check and see if there’s more.
Okay, April, wrap it up.
Q Yes. Wrapping it up. I’m going to share on another meeting —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — if there’s more information. Congressman Greg Meeks, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, met with the President; he was part of a group meeting with the President this week. And he talked about issues that he talked with — was it President Zelenskyy.
And one of those issues that President Zelenskyy specifically brought up to Meeks and the contingent was Ukrainian grains and how it is impacting — the lack of Ukrainian grains going out to the world is impacting Africa. Meeks said the President spoke about it.
Can you drill down a little bit more about this? Has — the President has said he wants it to go out to the world. Can you drill down a little bit more, especially when it comes to Africa? Because there’s a concern about many of those countries, to include Ethiopia and the Congo —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — that’s already going through crisis.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, it’s an important issue. We’re seeing food shortages in the world, including in parts of Africa, other parts of the Middle East.
This is one of the reasons why the President went to Chicago and raised the issue of doing everything we can to increase supply here in the United States.
While we don’t expect shortages here, we want to be providers of American grains to the rest of the world as we’re seeing shortages in part because of the war in Ukraine.
We’ve also provided a large amount of assistance to global food programs, global aid programs in anticipation of what we see as a potential shortage of food. And we’ll continue to work on it.
Q (Cross-talk by reporter.)
Q I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Does this give the President more pause that President Zelenskyy himself brought that issue of grain for Africa up — specifically Africa, the continent?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we are working on this issue and have been working on this issue for months now. That is — the President went on a trip just yesterday to elevate and talk about the steps we’re taking to increase supply of grains and wheat here in the United States to address exactly this issue. And we are far and away the world’s largest provider of assistance in aid to global food programs in order to address what we know could be a shortage around the world.
Thank you, everyone.
4:36 P.M. EDT