White House press secretary Jen Psaki briefed reporters for about 40 minutes on Tuesday, fielding questions on reports of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement, the Russia-Ukraine crisis and President Biden’s potential authority to act on student loans.
Here’s the White House briefing — in brief.
Biden is committed to nominating a Black woman to the Supreme Court
In the wake of reports that Breyer plans to retire, the press posed hypothetical questions about filling a potential vacancy, but Psaki wouldn’t comment on specifics until there was an announcement from Breyer.
But when asked about Biden’s campaign trail pledge to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court, Psaki said the president would stand by it.
“The president has stated and reiterated his commitment to nominating a Black woman to the Supreme Court and certainly stands by that,” she said.
She wouldn’t detail any preparations the White House has made for a Supreme Court vacancy and said she wouldn’t speak to “any considerations, preparations, lists” when asked if Biden would nominate Vice President Harris to a potential vacant seat on the high court.
“I’m not going to speak to the reports of a Supreme Court Justice retirement that hasn’t been announced,” she said.
But, she added, “the president has every intention — as he said before — of running for reelection and for running for reelection with Vice President Harris on the ticket as his partner.”
Biden earlier on Wednesday said he’d be happy to talk about Breyer later in response to shouted questions about the news of his retirement.
“There has been no announcement from Justice Breyer, let him make whatever statement he’s going to make and I’ll be happy to talk about it later,” Biden said.
U.S. more cognizant of Russian disinformation
Psaki said the U.S. is “much more cognizant of the Russia disinformation machine” than it was in 2014 when asked if the administration is prepared to release more details about what Moscow is doing regarding spreading disinformation.
“We have made a decision, a strategic decision, to call out disinformation when we see it all across the federal government,” she said.
“We know that Russia’s disinformation operation is highly developed,” she added.
The Biden administration has stressed diplomacy with Russia, while also warning that Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely to order an aggressive attack against Ukraine in the coming weeks.
Psaki said calling out disinformation is a tactic by the U.S., as well as making consequences of a potential invasion clear.
“There’s a lot of efforts underway to do exactly that. In terms of whether it will have a deterrent effect, I think our biggest effort in that regard is laying out the clear potential consequences,” she said.
The administration is prepared to impose harsh economic sanctions on Russia and restrict U.S. exports to the country should it launch an attack on Ukraine, which Secretary of State Antony Blinken underscored on Wednesday.
Psaki said that a sanctions package would be beyond what was done in 2014 and will include impacting Putin’s business and economic interests, when asked about Biden saying he would consider personally sanctioning Putin.
White House punts to Congress on student loans
Psaki said that Biden supports Congress sending legislation to his desk to forgive $10,000 in student debt per borrower when asked about a letter from more than 80 lawmakers on Tuesday pressing the president to publicly release information on his legal authority to cancel student loan debt.
The president requested a memo from the Department of Education in April to determine his authority to cancel student debt, but the administration hasn’t given an update on the status of it.
“I would reiterate also that the president supports Congress, members who sent the letter and others, sending him a bill that would provide $10,000 in debt relief, and he continues to look at what debt relief actions can be taken administratively,” she said.
When pressed again on if there is a plan to release the memo, Psaki said, “We’re still looking at administrative options, but Congress can also send the president a bill that will provide $10K in debt relief and he would be happy to sign that bill.”
She stressed that Biden has extended the student loan repayment pause until May. The loan payment moratorium was first enacted under former President Trump in March 2020.
“No one has paid, or been required to pay, a single dime of federal loans since the president took office over a year ago,” she said.
Biden last week, during his marathon press conference, was asked if he still plans to cancel $10,000 in student loans — which he pledged to do during his campaign — but he didn’t respond to the question.