- Karine Jean-Pierre made her debut on Monday as White House press secretary.
- She is the first Black and openly LGBTQ+ person and immigrant to serve in that role.
- Jean-Pierre pledged to provide “truth, honesty and transparency” in her job.
Karine Jean-Pierre made her debut on Monday as White House press secretary, making history as the first Black and openly LGBTQ+ person to serve in the public-facing role.
Jean-Pierre took the helm after former White House press secretary Jen Psaki left the post on Friday. Psaki, who served for over 15 months, is expected to join the NBC News Group family as early as September.
“Let’s get started,” Jean-Pierre said as she stepped to the podium for her first briefing as the 35th White House press secretary. She began by honoring the 10 people who were killed in the supermarket mass shooting in Buffalo over the weekend.
Before she fielded questions from reporters, Jean-Pierre also acknowledged the historic nature of her position and credited “generations of barrier-breaking people” that she said paved the way for her.
“I am obviously acutely aware that my presence at this podium represents a few firsts. I am a Black, gay, immigrant woman, the first of all three of those to hold this position,” she said. “If it were not for generations of barrier-breaking people before me, I would not be here. But I benefit from their sacrifices. I have learned from their excellence, and I am forever grateful to them.”
Jean-Pierre is among several of Biden administration officials who have made history as the president has prioritized selecting diverse candidates to serve in top positions.
“Representation does matter. You hear us say this often in this administration. And no one understands this better than President Biden,” Jean-Pierre said.
Jean-Pierre then pivoted to explain her approach to the job, vowing to provide the truth and uphold respect for the press.
“I will work every day to continue to ensure we are meeting the president’s high expectations of truth, honesty, and transparency,” she said.
“We might not see eye-to-eye here in this room all the time,” Jean-Pierre told reporters. “That give-and-take is so incredibly healthy and it’s a part of our democracy. And I look forward to engaging with all of you on that.”
Associated Press White House reporter Zeke Miller kicked off the briefing by asking Jean-Pierre if she sees her “primary goal here as speaking for the president and promoting his interests, or do you commit to providing the unvarnished truth to the American people so that they know what their government’s doing on their behalf?”
Jean-Pierre said she believes the two go “hand in hand.”
“Clearly, we are here to talk about his platform and what he is doing to deliver for the American people,” she said of Biden. “But he wants to make sure we’re doing this in a transparent way, in a truthful way, in an honest way.”
Jean-Pierre’s comments echo those Psaki made on her first day on the job following four years of former President Donald Trump’s hostility to the press.
Monday’s briefing largely centered on the Buffalo mass shooting, a racist attack that has prompted both Republican and Democratic congressional lawmakers to accuse other GOP officials and conservative media personalities of fueling such violence with their rhetoric.
Reporters pressed Jean-Pierre to name elected officials or media members who may be contributing to violence with their rhetoric. Jean-Pierre said the administration would continue to call out hatred, extremism, and racially motivated violence, no matter who is carrying it out.
“We must do everything in our power to end hate-fueled domestic terrorism. And we must reject hatred and extreme ideologies that seek to divide Americans, wherever we find it in society,” she said. “It doesn’t matter who it is.”
“I’m not going to speak or call out any individual names,” she added. “I’m saying that this is something that we need to call out.
Jean-Pierre has already faced criticism from the right
Jean-Pierre had served as White House principal deputy press secretary since 2021. Before Biden tapped her for the job, she worked on his 2020 campaign, worked in various political roles for former President Barack Obama, as chief public affairs officer for MoveOn, a progressive public advocacy group, and often appeared on MSNBC as a political analyst.
In announcing her promotion last week, Biden said Jean-Pierre “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.”
Jean-Pierre will have big shoes to fill. Biden in that same statement credited Psaki with setting the standard for “returning decency, respect and decorum to the White House Briefing Room.” During her time as press secretary, Psaki held 224 briefings — more than all of Trump’s press secretaries combined. Jean-Pierre has said she will continue the tradition of daily briefings.
Since she was selected to replace Psaki, Jean-Pierre has already received hostile treatment on Fox News from host Tucker Carlson, who recently attacked her, saying she has “no qualifications” and got the job because “she’s in the right group.”
“It’s really simple. Show us your picture, and we’ll tell you if you’re qualified for the job,” he said, mocking the Biden administration’s selection of officials, including Jean-Pierre.
Carlson also alleged that, “she is furious at America, despite her ample privilege,” and that she considers a long list of people and things “racist.”
Jean-Pierre, indeed, said Fox News is racist. In 2020, she reacted to MSNBC host Joy Reid’s mention of people tweeting “Chinese coronavirus” and noted that Carlson said that.
“When you look at Fox News, Fox News was racist before coronavirus,” Jean-Pierre said. “They are racist during the coronavirus. Fox News will be racist after the coronavirus. There is nothing new here.”
Jean-Pierre on Monday said she hasn’t read much about what’s been written about her. But she was moved by a story written about a school that she attended as a child for a year in New York.
“These kids wrote me a letter, and in the letter, they talked about how they can dream bigger because of me standing behind this podium and that matters,” she said.
Psaki last week called her successor a “remarkable person” who got her start in New York City politics and comes to the job “with decades of experience.”
Jean-Pierre is a graduate of Columbia University and a published author. She has spoken openly about overcoming her experiences with self-doubt and imposter syndrome, which she described as feeling that “you’re not good enough even when any objective person would say you are.”
“I’d be surprised if it didn’t affect women and people of color more often,” she wrote for MSNBC in 2019. “Because while we can all feel inadequate sometimes, women and people of color are often taught that they’re inadequate.”
But when she was asked on May 5 whether she ever doubted, as a woman of color, that she’d be in this position one day, she said “not at all.”
“I just worked hard towards it,” she said. “But I understand how hard it is.”