As soon as the results of the election had finally been certified in his favor and the transition was officially allowed to commence, now-President Joe Biden wasted no time at all in releasing a steady stream of Cabinet and other senior White House staff appointments in the months leading up to his inauguration on Jan. 20. Among these, in line with his promise to construct an Executive Branch that reflects the diversity of the citizens it’ll be serving, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris announced on Nov. 29 their press team appointees, all of whom are women.
“Communicating directly and truthfully to the American people is one of the most important duties of a President, and this team will be entrusted with the tremendous responsibility of connecting the American people to the White House. I am proud to announce today the first senior White House communications team comprised entirely of women,” Biden said in a statement.
The seven appointees include communications directors for Harris, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, and the White House as a whole, as well as two deputy directors and Harris’ chief spokesperson. At the helm of this history-making team is Jen Psaki, who, as press secretary, now serves as spokesperson for the entire Biden administration. Here’s what you need to know about Psaki, including all the details on her (many) years of experience in senior White House communications roles.
Who is Jen Psaki?
Psaki has worked as a core member of multiple presidential and campaign press teams for nearly two decades. Within a few years of her graduation from the College of William & Mary in 2000, she joined John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign as deputy press secretary. After a short stint as a spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, she returned to the world of presidential campaigns, joining the 2008 Obama-Biden campaign as traveling press secretary, a position she held again throughout their 2012 reelection campaign.
During Obama’s first term, Psaki was named deputy press secretary, then promoted to deputy communications director. Following a brief break from politics in 2011, during which she worked as senior vice president and managing director at a Washington, D.C., PR firm, Psaki rejoined Obama’s reelection campaign. During his second term, she served as the spokesperson for the State Department under Secretary John Kerry, before returning to the White House as communications director for the last two years of the Obama administration.
While Donald Trump was in office, Psaki became a political commentator on CNN and the vice president for communications and strategy at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Upon Biden’s election to the presidency, however, she left those posts to oversee the confirmations team for the Biden-Harris transition.
What will Psaki do as press secretary?
The White House press secretary is the media’s go-to source for information and statements from the Executive Branch, for which the press secretary serves as the primary spokesperson. The post was first established in 1929, under President Herbert Hoover.
As the public face of the White House, Psaki will gather information from the president, vice president, and Cabinet, and coordinate with the rest of the administration’s press team to hold daily press briefings, during which she’ll provide Biden’s daily schedule and outline the administration’s official position on national and international happenings. The White House press secretary is also typically made available to the press throughout the day in other press conferences, event-specific briefings, and off-camera “press gaggles” to answer their questions about specific administration plans and policies.
If you’d like to keep up with Psaki’s work, her press briefings are streamed live every day by C-SPAN, PBS, and other news networks, and she provides further daily updates via the official @PressSec Twitter account.
What did Psaki say about her appointment?
Upon Biden’s announcement that Psaki would be returning with him to the White House as press secretary, she tweeted, “Honored to work again for @JoeBiden, a man I worked on behalf of during the Obama-Biden Admin as he helped lead economic recovery, rebuilt our relationships with partners (turns out good practice) and injected empathy and humanity into nearly every meeting I sat in.”
She also gave shout-outs to the other “talented, battle-tested” women joining her on the senior White House communications team, noting that they comprise the “most diverse team in history and also 6 Moms of young kids.”
Finally, Psaki went on to hint at the form the Biden administration’s communications strategy will take with her at the lead: “We can’t wait to share what we are thinking as we get closer to inauguration, but [Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre] and I spoke just this am about taking the next few weeks to think outside of the box about how to ensure we are making the Biden-Harris agenda more accessible from the podium,” she tweeted.
How did her first press briefing go?
Within hours of taking office, Biden immediately settled in to get work done, signing 17 executive orders and dispatching Psaki to deliver her first official press briefing to the assembled White House press corps on the afternoon of Jan. 20. True to her initial statements upon being appointed to the position, Psaki made a point throughout the address to emphasize the new White House communications team’s focus on “rebuilding trust” and providing transparency and accessibility, in sharp contrast to the antagonistic attitude toward the media adopted by the previous administration’s comms squad.
“I have deep respect for the role of a free and independent press. We have a common goal, which is sharing accurate information with the American people,” Psaki said during the briefing, per The New York Times, adding, “There will be times when we see things differently in this room. That’s OK. That’s part of our democracy.”
She proceeded to take questions from almost every reporter present, including those with viewpoints different from those of the administration. Groundbreaking!
In a fun peek behind the very stately curtain, an episode of Showtime’s The Circus that aired after Psaki’s debut shows her prepping for her first press briefing. She does a little dance to shake off the pre-briefing jitters, while singing a little tune about the big day.
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In an interview later on in the episode, per The Hill, she explained the reason for her first day nerves. “Even though I had done a similar job at the State Department, you have the weight of ‘I want to represent the president, I want to meet this moment, people are watching, I want my mom to be proud’—you know, all the things,” Psaki said. “But once I got out there, it felt great.”
How does her approach compare to previous press secretaries?
Psaki’s calm, reasonable approach to the press briefing was refreshingly banal compared to the last four years’ worth of press secretaries: The Trump administration’s briefings kicked off with Sean Spicer lying about the size of the crowd in attendance at Trump’s inauguration, and wrapped up most recently with Kayleigh McEnany refusing to take questions from CNN reporters, to whom she referred as “activists.” Along the way, Trump’s communications team eventually stopped holding daily press briefings at all.
After all of that, as presidential historian Michael Beschloss put it, Psaki’s level-headedness and clear respect for the truth immediately made her the “first non-weird White House Press Secretary in four years.”
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