Washington — White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre made history when she stepped behind the podium in the James S. Brady Briefing Room on Wednesday afternoon, becoming just the second African-American woman to lead a formal White House press briefing and the first in 30 years.
“It’s a real honor to be standing here today. 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,” Jean-Pierre said. “Clearly the president believes that representation matters, and I appreciate him giving me this opportunity, and it’s another reason why I think we’re all so proud that this is the most diverse administration in history.”
Judy Smith, a deputy press secretary for President George H.W. Bush and the inspiration for Olivia Pope on “Scandal,” was the first Black woman to lead a briefing when she took to the podium in 1991.
Jean-Pierre is President Biden’s No. 2 press aide under press secretary Jen Psaki and had conducted five off-camera “gaggles” with press and smaller media availabilities with the traveling press on Air Force One. But she had yet to hold an on-camera briefing at the White House briefing room.
She kicked off the briefing Wednesday afternoon by noting the Senate confirmations of Kristen Clarke, the first Black woman to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, who was confirmed to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Brooks-LaSure is the first Black woman to head the agency.
Before the briefing, Martha Joynt Kumar, an academic and author who has been monitoring White House briefings since 1975, said she expected Jean-Pierre to be “well-prepped on the information.”
“She has been through all the information gathering, all discussions they have before the briefing,” Joynt Kumar said. “Now she’s ready to do a briefing.”
On Twitter, Psaki called Jean-Pierre her “partner in truth” and said her turn at the podium is “a big day in the press office and @WhiteHouse.”
“[Jean-Pierre] is doing her first full briefing from the podium today making history in her own right,” Psaki wrote. “But doing her real justice means also recognizing her talent, her brilliance and her wonderful spirit.”
Wednesday was not the first time Jean-Pierre has marked a historic milestone during her career. Prior to the Biden White House, Jean-Pierre served as chief of staff to Vice President Kamala Harris during the 2020 campaign. In a November 2020 profile, Out Magazine wrote that she was “the first Black person and first out lesbian to hold that position for a vice-presidential nominee.”
“As a Black gay immigrant who comes from a working-class family, I know that America hasn’t always worked for everyone,” Jean-Pierre, who was born on the French island territory of Martinique to Haitian immigrants and grew up in New York, told the magazine. “And I know that America still doesn’t work for everyone. The truth of the matter is we have a long way to go. But that’s what I’m working toward: mobilizing people around this shared vision of what an America that works for everyone could look like — and then making it happen.”
Jean-Pierre previously worked in the Obama White House and as a national spokesperson for the liberal group MoveOn.org. She has also been an NBC News political analyst.