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Karine Jean-Pierre becomes first Black, openly gay woman to serve as White House press secretary

President Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on the second night of the second 2020 Democratic US presidential debate in Detroit.

President Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on the second night of the second 2020 Democratic US presidential debate in Detroit.

Published May 6, 2022

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Washington - Karine Jean-Pierre will take over as President Joe Biden's next White House press secretary within weeks, replacing Jen Psaki who is set to leave the administration, the White House announced Thursday.

Jean-Pierre, who has served as Psaki's top deputy since the start of the administration, will immediately become the public face of the Biden White House and the first Black person to hold the high-profile job of delivering the president's daily message and fielding questions from an often skeptical press corps.

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She will assume the top spokesperson role at time when the president faces economic and political head winds, six months before midterm elections where Democrats face an uphill battle. If Republicans retake the House, as many in both parties expect, Jean-Pierre could face numerous questions about GOP investigations into sensitive topics, although the White House Counsel's Office is bringing in another communications official, Ian Sams, to handle such inquiries. Anita Dunn is also rejoining the White House as a senior adviser, where she previously helped lead the president's communications efforts.

Jean-Pierre will play a central role in shaping the narrative of Biden's presidency, an effort the president and his aides have conceded they have failed to do successfully. The president himself has voiced frustration that he has not been able to convey his accomplishments to the public in an effective way.

“Karine not only brings the experience, talent and integrity needed for this difficult job, but she will continue to lead the way in communicating about the work of the Biden-Harris Administration on behalf of the American people,” Biden said in a statement.

“Jill and I have known and respected Karine a long time and she will be a strong voice speaking for me and this Administration.”

She becomes the first Black and openly gay woman to serve as the White House press secretary. In May 2021, Jean-Pierre became the first Black woman in 30 years to address the press in the White House briefing room when she filled in for Psaki, which she has since done on multiple occasions in the past year.

In introducing Jean-Pierre on Thursday, Psaki called her “my friend, my colleague, my partner in truth.”

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Jean-Pierre said little, but at her first briefing last year, she said, “It's a real honour just to be standing here today. I appreciate the historic nature, I really do. But I believe being behind this podium, being in this room, being in this building, is not about one person. It's about what we do on behalf of the American people.”

Jean-Pierre will join a growing list of individuals who are breaking barriers under the Biden administration, from Lloyd Austin, the first Black defence secretary, to White House budget director Shalanda Young, the first Black woman in that role. Vice President Kamala Harris is the first Black woman as well as the first Asian American to hold her position, and Biden just appointed Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first Black woman on the Supreme Court.

Psaki is one of the most recognizable faces in the Biden administration, due to her daily appearance at the televised briefings, where she sometimes spars with reporters or disputes the premise of their questions. Still, Psaki has re-established the tradition of a generally courteous back-and-forth between the White House and the press. She is slated to join the media herself when she leaves her current job, joining MSNBC in an on-air position.

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Under former president Donald Trump, White House press secretaries often attacked the reporters they were addressing and challenged their motives, and for long stretches the White House suspended the daily press briefing altogether. The notion of the press as an “enemy of the people” acting in collusion with liberals was a central tenet of the Trump presidency.

Biden, despite periodically chiding the media, has also said he values journalists' contributions. At a recent gala hosted by the White House Correspondents' Association, Biden joked that “I'm really excited to be here tonight with the only group of Americans with a lower approval rating than I have.”

He also noted that “I've always believed that good journalism holds up a mirror to ourselves to reflect on the good, the bad, and the true,” and he paid tribute to journalists who are covering the war in Ukraine and in some cases have died there.

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Jean-Pierre, a longtime Democratic political operative, worked on both Obama presidential campaigns and served in the Obama White House in the office of political affairs. In 2016, she worked as deputy campaign manager for Martin O'Malley's presidential campaign and then joined Move On, a liberal advocacy organization.

On the Biden campaign, she served as chief of staff to Harris. She joined the White House as principal deputy press secretary.

Jean-Pierre was always viewed as the front-runner to replace Psaki, but other potential candidates for the role emerged in recent weeks, including Kate Bedingfield, the White House communications director, Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, and John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman.

Psaki's exit, which has long been planned, comes amid the first wave of departures from the West Wing during Biden's presidency. Jeff Zients, the coronavirus coordinator; Cedric Richmond, director of the White House office of pubic engagement; Gina McCarthy, the national climate adviser; and Pili Tobar, the White House deputy communications director, have all left or plan to leave in the coming weeks.

The Washington Post

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