‘A History Maker’: Karine Jean-Pierre Prepares for White House Press Secretary Job | biden administration

This week, the blue door will slide back, a black woman will walk to the lectern, and she will become a part of White House history.

Karine Jean-Pierre, in front of rows of reporters and cameras, will make her briefing room debut as the first black woman and first openly gay person in the role of press secretary. Not that there is much time to dwell on the ceremony.

“Karine is the right person to carry the weight of being a story maker, but that aspect will last five hot minutes on the podium.,” foretold Patrick Gaspard, a longtime colleague who is now executive director of the Center for American Progress think tank in Washington.

“About five minutes later, being the first in the story will mean almost nothing to the people who are hearing from her and it’s certainly not a crutch that Karine is going to rely on. She knows that she has to be better prepared than anyone.”

In fact, it promises to be a baptism of fire. Jean-Pierre takes over as chief messenger for a Joe Biden administration grappling with inflation, Ukraine and a national shortage of baby formula as the Democratic Party prepares to lose the November election that could end its control of Congress. .

But the symbolism of the appointment is inescapable after the Donald Trump era in which all four press secretaries were white. Jean-Pierre once declared: “I am everything Donald Trump hates. I am a black woman, I am gay, I am a mom. My parents were born in Haiti.”

The 47-year-old was born in Martinique to Haitian parents and grew up in the Queens Village neighborhood of New York. His early career included a stint working for James Sanders, then a New York City Council member, now a state senator, and at the Center for Community and Corporate Ethics, lobbying big companies like Walmart to change their practices. commercial.

Karine Jean-Pierre calls a reporter during a daily press conference on July 29, 2021. Photograph: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

She hasn’t always picked the winners. Jean-Pierre was press secretary for Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York, later jailed for sending sexually explicit text messages to a minor, and was involved in the presidential election campaign of John Edwards, who was also disgraced in a sex scandal.

But her big break came when Gaspard hired her to work on the Barack Obama campaign in 2008 and then in the Obama White House as a regional director in the office of political affairs. Gaspard, the son of Haitian immigrants, said: “She and I have been in the trenches together. We are a Haitian-American family.

“She and I can sometimes finish each other’s thoughts just based on the culture we’re immersed in.. There is a deep sense of public service and the integrity of government that is really important to most immigrant communities and certainly to Haitian-Americans who appreciate that there are opportunities in democratic service available to them here that are tragically denied to them in House..”

Jean-Pierre was deputy campaign manager on Martin O’Malley’s 2016 presidential campaign, then director of public affairs for the progressive grassroots group MoveOn.

At one of their events in 2019, an animal rights protester jumped onto the stage and attempted to seize then-Senator Kamala Harris’s microphone. Jean-Pierre kept her calm, jumping out of her chair to shoo him away. Old colleagues say she has the ideal temperament for the pressure cooker of the meeting room with her sometimes hostile questions.

Ben Wikler, a former senior adviser at MoveOn, now chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, said, “One of Karine’s superpowers is keeping her nerve in the face of chaos and high stakes.”

Two women in blue dresses sit on chairs under an emblem of the presidential seal.
Jen Psaki and Karine Jean-Pierre listen during a White House news conference. Photograph: Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

“He has a wealth of experience working on the political side and in communications roles, and doing a lot of live television work has really given him a sense of poise and confidence in handling sensitive and breaking news situations.”

He added, “Everyone’s blood temperature dropped when she had the microphone because they knew she is very effective at bringing things back to the message that needed to be conveyed.”

Jean-Pierre appeared as a political analyst on NBC and MSNBC but, with the election of Biden, he returned to the White House. As senior deputy press secretary, she has sometimes reported in Psaki’s absence, for example when the latter was sick with coronavirus.

Psaki, a self-proclaimed political pundit, told the New York Times that before the meeting room door opens, the two women often dance to shake off their nerves. Now that Psaki is reportedly headed to MSNBC, Biden has offered Jean-Pierre the top job in the Oval Office.

A day after his appointment, he received a standing ovation at a recent media awards ceremony in New York organized by the LGBTQ+ organization Glaad. Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO and President, said: “Just when we thought her standing ovation would wane, the audience at the Glaad Media Awards gave another wave of applause, because representation matters.

A woman in a purple dress speaks to the media at the White House.
Karine Jean-Pierre fills in for Jen Psaki during her absence due to Covid. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

“When Karine steps up to the podium as press secretary, all girls, especially Black girls and all LGBTQ boys, will see that they can belong just the way they are, that they can be LGBTQ and can contribute and be valued wherever they go. Karine represents the best of America and what we can be.”

Jean-Pierre’s partner is Suzanne Malveaux, a CNN correspondent. Amid questions about potential conflicts of interest, the network has said Malveaux “will continue in her role as CNN’s national correspondent covering national and international news and cultural events, but will not cover politics, Capitol Hill or the White House.”

On Friday, at his 224th and final briefing, more than all of Trump’s press secretaries combined, albeit with less drama or viewers, Psaki was asked what lessons he wanted to convey to Jean-Pierre, who smiled from his familiar position. aside. of the room.

“The last thing I would say is that it can get repetitive here from time to time,” he mused. “That is not a criticism. You all are doing your job. But in the age of social media, always provide the context and all the details, because you never want to be a one-line meme.

“But otherwise, be yourself and Karine, like I said last week, will bring her own magic, her brilliance, her style to this meeting room.”

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