When Karine Jean-PierreKarine Jean-PierreWhite House: Biden ‘remains committed’ to Jan. 6 probe The Hill’s 12:30 Report – Senators back in session after late-night hold-up DHS secretary: ‘We’re taking a very close look at’ vaccine passports MORE stepped up to the podium on Wednesday for her first briefing in the Biden White House, she was well aware of the history she would be making as the second Black woman to speak to the White House press corps in 30 years.
And while the principal deputy press secretary came prepared to discuss the day’s news on the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and a mass shooting in San Jose, Calif., she didn’t have an answer scripted for the topic at hand.
“You know it’s a real honor to be standing — just to be standing here today. It doesn’t — you know, the — I appreciate the historic nature, I really do,” Jean-Pierre said, trying to muddle through the response. “But I believe that you know, behind — being behind this podium, being in this room, being in this building is not about one person; it’s about, you know what we do for the American people.
“Clearly, the president believes in ‘representation matters’ and I appreciate him giving me this opportunity,” added Jean-Pierre, who is also the first openly gay spokeswoman to take questions at the podium.
One White House aide who huddled with Jean-Pierre prior to the briefing called it a “raw moment” that showed why Jean-Pierre will be a voice and face for Biden’s White House. And that was a message echoed by the White House press secretary, Jen PsakiJen PsakiSunday shows preview: Infrastructure push revs up Biden administration to reimpose sanctions on Belarus over diverted flight Overnight Energy: Psaki defends gas prices | Biden budget aims to raise B from cutting fossil fuel tax benefits MORE.
“It is no surprise that Karine absolutely crushed it at the briefing with her expansive base of knowledge and her own graceful style,” Psaki told The Hill in an email.
While she has briefed the press corps in so-called “gaggles” on Air Force One, the briefing Wednesday was a tryout of sorts for Jean-Pierre, 43, who is seen as being the next in line for the White House press secretary role when Psaki steps down.
She will have competition: Symone SandersSymone SandersJean-Pierre makes history in taking podium at White House press briefing Symone Sanders ‘hurt’ at being passed over for press secretary: report Harris to speak with Mexican president about tree-planting initiative, poverty, migration MORE, a senior communications aide for Vice President Harris, and Ned Price, the spokesman for the State Department are said to be contenders.
Jean-Pierre, a daughter of Haitian emigrants who was born in Martinique and raised in New York, she previously served as Harris’s chief of staff during the 2020 campaign.
Prior to that experience she worked as the chief public affairs officer for the progressive organization MoveOn, where she proclaimed in a 2018 video: “I am everything that Donald TrumpDonald TrumpWhat you need to know about the international tax talks 9 Senate seats most likely to flip in 2022 Biden blasts Texas voting bill: ‘An assault on democracy’ MORE hates. I’m a Black woman, I’m gay and I am a mom. Both my parents were born in Haiti.”
She also served as the national deputy battleground states director on Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign after serving as the White House liaison to the Department of Labor and an aide in the White House Office of Political Affairs. Jean-Pierre wrote about some of these experiences in her book “Moving Forward: A Story of Hope, Hard Work, and The Promise of America,” which came out in late 2019.
While she doesn’t have as much on-camera experience fielding questions from the press as Psaki, her colleagues say she’s proven herself as someone who can handle the high-pressure job.
“She’s a critical part of our team,” one senior administration official said, following the briefing. “She has a lot of fans inside the White House.”
Part of Jean-Pierre’s success, her colleagues say, is that she isn’t a large personality with an even larger ego — a persona typically found in administrations over the years.
She is understated yet direct in the right moments, colleagues say. She’s known to be a vocal voice in meetings, asking the right questions, and meeting the moment.
She has always been hyperfocused on the root cause of the issues in front of her, say those who know her.
“What she is good at is bringing it back to who are we serving and who are we doing this for, and that’s something that gets lost in the day-to-day,” said Christina Reynolds, a former Obama aide who has known Jean Pierre since the two worked on John Edwards’s presidential campaign. “She’s good at bringing it back to the reason we’re here. And ‘the why’ is always important.”
Jean-Pierre is known to be one of the first aides into the West Wing area known as “Lower Press” in the mornings, her colleagues say. She fuels up on tea, often beams about her young daughter — who celebrated a birthday the day after her debut briefing — and is “super encouraging” of everyone around her, down to the press assistants, one White House official said.
“She is very kind-hearted,” the White House official said.
Eric Schultz, who held the same role as Jean-Pierre during the Obama White House, said Jean-Pierre has “a certain poise about her that puts the audience at ease.”
“She has a really good energy,” Schultz said. “That’s not something that can be trained. That’s a natural gift.”
At the end of her first briefing, Jean-Pierre — who wore a bright, canary yellow dress — used the standard “I don’t want to get ahead of the president” line when it came to answering a question on the budget.
And when a reporter asked to “follow up on my colleague’s question” she ended the briefing with a customary, “thank you guys,” on her way out.
One official who spoke to Jean-Pierre afterward said she felt a bit of relief when it was over.
“It always feels good to get the first one out of the way,” her colleague said.
People inside and outside the White House are confident it won’t be her last one.