Karine Jean-Pierre, principal deputy press secretary for the Biden administration, gave her first press briefing on Wednesday and made history as the first Black woman in over 30 years to take her turn at the White House podium.
“Hi everybody, welcome,” she said warmly to a room full of reporters, before jumping into topics of the day — namely, a mass shooting in California, and President Biden’s request that US officials delve deeper into the origins of the coronavirus.
In her debut, Jean-Pierre appeared to avoid getting ahead of the president and the administration, offering few additional details in response to reporters’ questions. She did, however, reflect on the historic moment.
“It’s a real honor to be standing here today,” Jean-Pierre said. “I appreciate the historic nature, I really do, but I believe that 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.”
She added: “Clearly the president believes that representation matters, and I appreciate him giving me this opportunity, and it’s another reason why I think we are all so proud that this is the most diverse administration in history.”
Jean-Pierre also made history Wednesday as the first openly gay woman to deliver the White House press briefing.
She reiterated, however, “this is not about me, this is not about any of us,” Jean-Pierre said before referencing her colleague, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki: “Any time I’m behind here, and I think you’ve heard Jen say this as well, we’re going to be truthful, we’re going to be transparent, and that’s the way I believe the president would want us to communicate to the American people.”
Psaki, as well as many others online, made a point to note the importance of Wednesday’s briefing. The last time a Black woman stood behind the lectern in the James S. Brady Briefing Room was in 1991 when Judy Smith served as deputy press secretary to President George H. W. Bush.
“Today is a big day in the press office and [White House],” Psaki said in a tweet. “My partner in truth [Jean-Pierre] is doing her first full briefing from the podium today making history in her own right. But doing her real justice means also recognizing her talent, her brilliance and her wonderful spirit.”
Today is a big day in the press office and @WhiteHouse. My partner in truth--@KJP46 is doing her first full briefing from the podium today making history in her own right. But doing her real justice means also recognizing her talent, her brilliance and her wonderful spirit.— Jen Psaki (@PressSec) May 26, 2021
“So here for this history!!” another user tweeted, adding that “somewhere a little Black or Brown girl is spotting the TV and seeing new possibilities.”
So here for this history!!! @KJP46 is the first Black woman since Judy Smith in 1991 (the inspiration for Olivia Pope!) to lead a @WhiteHouse press conference. Somewhere a little Black or Brown girl is spotting the TV and seeing new possibilities. Also that yellow is glorious!🤩 pic.twitter.com/nB5fSEFhsZ— Joy-Ann (Democracy Fan) Reid 😷 (@JoyAnnReid) May 26, 2021
White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre will make history when she steps behind the podium in the James S. Brady Briefing Room in a few minutes, becoming just the second black woman to lead a White House press briefing.— Yamiche Alcindor (@Yamiche) May 26, 2021
Judy Smith was the first in 1991.
Jean-Pierre’s appearance at the lectern Wednesday was also viewed by many as an audition for the press secretary job. Psaki has made it public that she intends to leave her post after a year.
While Jean-Pierre, 43, is not the heir apparent to replace Psaki, she has had frequent contact with the White House press corps in recent months, according to the New York Times. Other names that have been put forth for the role include Symone Sanders, the vice president’s press secretary, and Ned Price, the State Department spokesperson, the Times said.
Jean-Pierre’s career has been centered around grassroots activism and working on Democratic campaigns. During the 2020 election, Jean-Pierre was now-Vice President Kamala Harris’ chief of staff. She previously worked on both of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, ultimately serving as national deputy battleground states director for the 2012 campaign. In between, Jean-Pierre worked in the Obama administration, serving as the White House liaison to the Labor Department and later as regional director in the White House Office of Political Affairs. She has also served as chief public affairs officer at the liberal group MoveOn.