5 Things To Know About New White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre
The longtime political strategist continues to diversify the Democratic power structure and advance the party's agenda.
May 12, 2022 at 6:45 pm
Last week, President Joe Biden announced that Karine Jean-Pierre would become the next White House press secretary, replacing Jen Psaki, who is leaving the role at the end of this week. Jean-Pierre’s appointment is historic, as she is the first Black person and the first openly LGBTQ+ individual to serve in the role. As Jean-Pierre prepares to take over as lead spokesperson for the White House, here are five things to know about her.
1. A long history of working for, or toward, the White House
Jean-Pierre has long connections to politics and the White House. She entered the political arena in 2008 for the Obama-Biden campaign as southern regional political director. She served in several advisory roles for the Obama administration during its first term in office, then returned to the campaign trail in 2012 as national deputy battleground states director.
She later played a senior role in the 2016 presidential bid of former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. After a stint with MoveOn.org, Jean-Pierre joined the Biden campaign in 2020, eventually becoming chief of staff to Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris. After serving as principal deputy press secretary since the start of the Biden-Harris administration, Jean-Pierre now steps into the top role within the White House press office.
2. Increasing diversity and representation in a number of ways
Many supporters and even a few detractors have noted the historic nature of Jean-Pierre’s appointment. She is the first Black person to serve as White House press secretary, a position that has previously been occupied by white men and women. Jean-Pierre is also the first openly LGBTQ+ individual to occupy the role, a milestone that is fittingly being achieved in an administration that has made inclusion a priority.
While achieving these firsts, Jean-Pierre also continues another trend of inclusion and representation. She is now the fifth woman in a row to hold the press secretary job, a streak going back to the Trump administration. Overall, she will be the seventh woman to hold the position.
3. Shaped by Haitian, Caribbean roots
Jean-Pierre’s parents left Haiti during a period of political unrest, going to the French Caribbean territory of Martinique, where their daughter Karine was born. The family lived in France for some time before Jean-Pierre and her parents immigrated to the U.S., where the future press secretary grew up in a Haitian-American community in Queens, New York. Her father drove a taxi and her mother worked as a home health aide to support their family, which included Karine and her two younger siblings.
Reflecting her family’s roots, Jean-Pierre speaks French and Haitian Creole in addition to English. She has been a prominent voice for the Biden administration’s policies toward Haiti amid the presidential assassination and major earthquake that has created turmoil in the country.
4. Deep connections to the press
The White House press secretary is the face of the administration to the press, and the role has in recent decades had a close relationship with the journalism industry. Several press secretaries come to the job with media experience, and many go on to work for major media outlets. For instance, outgoing press secretary Jen Psaki is going to MSNBC.
Jean-Pierre brings her own media experience and connections to the job. In 2019, she became a political analyst for NBC News and MSNBC, roles she left to join the Biden campaign in 2020. Beyond her own news experience, Jean-Pierre’s partner, Suzanne Malveaux, is a career journalist who has spent 20 years with CNN.
5. Already making the far right angry
Republicans have started attacking Jean-Pierre before she even takes over her new role. Tucker Carlson, who has a pattern of dismissing women of color despite their accomplishments, has insinuated that Biden only chose Jean-Pierre because of her race, gender and sexuality. Other Fox News hosts have attempted to accuse her of denying the legitimacy of an election — the very thing that they have actually done — because of her comments about the 2018 Georgia governor’s race being “stolen” from Stacey Abrams.
Jean-Pierre once said of her identity that “I’m a Black woman, I’m a gay woman and I’m an immigrant, and Donald Trump, he is someone who hates everything I am.” This statement seems to remain true for Trump’s most devoted followers if initial reactions are any indication of their attitude toward the new press secretary.
As Jean-Pierre officially steps into her new role, she will have plenty of time to continue to anger the far right while conveying the Biden administration’s messages to the press and the public. Her historic appointment is just the latest step in advancing the White House’s agenda while diversifying the faces that occupy the administration’s top positions.