WASHINGTON – Karine Jean-Pierre is taking over the most visible supporting role in the Biden administration, becoming the president’s press secretary after Jen Psaki departs Friday.
Jean-Pierre, who had served as Psaki’s chief deputy, is the first Black woman and first openly LGBTQ person to hold the top position.
“This is a historic moment, and it’s not lost on me,” Jean-Pierre said when her appointment was announced May 5.
Biden had asked Jean-Pierre in an Oval Office meeting that afternoon if she would serve as press secretary.
“Karine not only brings the experience, talent and integrity needed for this difficult job,” Biden said in a statement, “but she will continue to lead the way in communicating about the work of the Biden-Harris Administration on behalf of the American people.”
Here’s what led to that moment:
What did Jean-Pierre do before joining Biden administration?
Prior to joining the White House, Jean-Pierre worked as chief public affairs officer for MoveOn.org and as an NBC and MSNBC political analyst. She was regional political director for the White House Office of Political Affairs during the Obama-Biden administration and deputy battleground states director for President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign.
Psaki described Jean-Pierre as a “longtime adviser” to Biden and his wife, Jill, having worked with both during the Obama administration.
“Jill and I have known and respected Karine a long time and she will be a strong voice speaking for me and this administration,” Biden said in his May 5 statement.
Jean-Pierre makes history for Black women, LGBTQ community
Filling in for Psaki in May 2021, Jean-Pierre became the first Black woman in decades to lead a White House press briefing.
Judy Smith, deputy press secretary to President George H.W. Bush, was the first Black woman to do so in 1991 and was the inspiration behind the Olivia Pope character in the hit show “Scandal.”
Jean-Pierre said that she never doubted, as a woman of color, that she could be in her current position one day.
“No, not at all. I just worked hard towards it,” she told reporters when her appointment was announced. “But I understand how hard it is. I do. We all do. But just keep working hard towards it.”
Jean-Pierre also said she understands how important it is for many people in many different communities “that I stand on their shoulders and I have been throughout my career.”
Psaki said her successor will “give a voice to so many” and show “what is truly possible when you work hard and dream big.”
“Representation matters,” Psaki said.
Is Jean-Pierre married or have children?
Jean-Pierre and her partner, CNN correspondent Suzanne Malveaux, have a daughter.
Jean-Pierre told The Haitian Times she was thinking about her daughter and the future of the country when she decided to join Biden’s 2020 campaign.
“I looked at her and I thought to myself, ‘There is no way I can not get involved in this election,’ ” Jean-Pierre told the paper in 2020.
What is Jean-Pierre’s style?
When Psaki and Jean-Pierre prepared for the start of the administration, they discussed how to build what Psaki called a drama-free workplace, “where we, on our best days, we’re rebuilding trust with the public.”
Psaki, who has been praised as one of the best briefers to hold the high-pressure position, said Jean-Pierre will bring her “own style, brilliance and grace to the podium.”
“She is passionate. She is smart and she has a moral core that makes her not just a great colleague, but an amazing mom and human,” Psaki said. “Plus, she has a great sense of humor.”
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Jean-Pierre’s immigrant story
The daughter of Haitian immigrants, Jean-Pierre was born in Martinique and raised in New York City.
On of the goals of her 2019 book, “Moving Forward,” was to tell the immigrant story – something she thought was particularly important because of the “anti-immigrant rhetoric” from the Trump White House.
Immigrants quickly realize the better life they’re seeking in America is not that easy, she said in a CBS News interview during her book tour.
“The constantly got knocked down,” she said of her parents. “They got up and that’s where I got my resilience from.”
Jean-Pierre dedicated her book to “anyone who has ever been told no in their life.”
Jean-Pierre’s advice for others
After joining the Columbia University faculty in 2014, Jean-Pierre’s students would often ask how she got where she was. It took her a while to figure out the best career advice. It came down to: Follow your passion. Follow what you believe in.
“I think if you are passionate about what you want to be or where you want to go and you work very hard to that goal, it will happen,” she told reporters May 5. “And, yes, you’ll be knocked down and you’ll have some tough times. And it won’t be easy all the time, but the rewards are pretty amazing, especially if you stay true to yourself.”