Black History 365: Karine Jean-Pierre

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Karine Jean-Pierre will become the 1st Black White House press secretary

President Biden has named Karine Jean-Pierre as his second White House press secretary, replacing Jen Psaki later this month. Jean-Pierre, who has been Psaki’s deputy since the start of the administration, will make history several times over.

She will be the first Black press secretary in White House history and the first openly gay person in this high-profile role, speaking for both the president and the U.S. government in press briefings that are watched by the world.

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

“This is a historic moment, and it’s not lost on me,” Jean-Pierre said at Thursday’s press briefing, where she appeared with Psaki, embracing and holding hands at times.

“I understand how important it is for so many people out there, so many different communities, that I stand on their shoulders and I have been throughout my career,” she added.

Psaki referred to her successor as “my partner in truth.” She added, “One of the first conversations we had when we both found out we were getting these jobs was about how we wanted to build a drama-free, on your best days, workplace where everybody worked hard. Where we, on our best days, were rebuilding trust with the public.”

Jean-Pierre came to the Biden team from the progressive organization, where she was a top communications staffer. She was also a regular on MSNBC. Jean-Pierre has already led several White House press briefings, including when Psaki was out with COVID.

“It’s a real honor just to be standing here today,” Jean-Pierre said in May 2021 during her first turn behind the famous lectern. “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 has had a few rough briefings, winding up in the hot seat on days when there were headlines the White House didn’t have great answers for. In one briefing on Air Force One, she accidentally suggested the U.S. favored admitting Ukraine to NATO, before quickly walking it back upon landing. She is generally well liked among reporters and will provide continuity as significant turnover is expected in White House press operations in the coming weeks.

Psaki is widely expected to take a job at MSNBC when she leaves. Her last day is scheduled for May 13th.

“Jen Psaki has set the standard for returning decency, respect and decorum to the White House Briefing Room,” said Biden in the statement. “I want to say thank you to Jen for raising the bar, communicating directly and truthfully to the American people, and keeping her sense of humor while doing so.”

In addition to the elevation of Jean-Pierre, the White House announced long-time Biden adviser Anita Dunn will return as a senior adviser and assistant to the president. She briefly left the administration last summer to work at the consulting firm SKDK, but didn’t stay away long.

Raised in New York, Jean-Pierre was born in Martinique and went to Columbia University. Throughout her career she has bounced between Democratic political campaigns and left-leaning organizations.