President Joe Biden burst open a tightly held White House secret when he announced that Karine Jean-Pierre would be his new press secretary, a coveted position for which there was stiff competition.

Coming at a pivotal moment in Biden’s presidency, the reveal Thursday capped months of speculation by Washington insiders over who would next helm the podium when Jen Psaki steps down.

Jean-Pierre, Psaki’s principal deputy, was the natural heir among roughly a dozen Democratic operatives positioned to take the role. The first black LGBT woman to become the president’s press secretary, Jean-Pierre will also make history.


She briefly addressed the news during a press briefing at the White House on Thursday before questions began swirling about a conflict of interest involving her longtime partner, CNN's national correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux.

“I am still processing it because, as Jen said at the top, this is a historic moment, and it’s not lost on me. I understand how important it is for so many people out there, so many different communities that I stand on their shoulders, and I have been throughout my career, and so it is an honor and a privilege to be behind this podium,” she said. “That is something that I will honor and do my best to represent this president and this first lady the best that I can but also the American people.”

Jean-Pierre said she never doubted that she would one day fill the role. “No, not at all. I just worked hard towards it,” she told reporters. “I understand how hard it is. I do. We all do, but just keep working hard towards it.”

For Malveaux, the change means that she will no longer be allowed to cover politics while Jean-Pierre is at the podium.

Jean-Pierre’s promotion comes at a time of upheaval for Democrats in a year punctuated by major news.

A draft opinion striking down federal abortion rights tore through Washington this week and presented a dilemma for which the White House has few answers. Democrats are also staring down the barrel of the midterm elections, as Republicans hold a 3.2 percentage point advantage over Democrats, according to the RealClearPolitics generic ballot average.

Persistent inflation has dampened the president’s approval rating as voters worry about his handling of the economy and as officials decline to rule out the possibility of a recession.

On the border, some Democratic lawmakers have broken with the administration over a plan to lift a rule that allows agents to expel migrants immediately. Legislative disputes have split Democratic Party moderates from left-wing members, routing Biden’s plans for voting rights reform and billions of dollars in social spending. Russia continues to wage a bloody war in Ukraine.

A former press secretary at the State Department during the Obama administration, Psaki has been credited with restoring the daily briefings that had lapsed during the Trump administration. As the face of the administration, she has also become a media phenomenon, with clips of her “Psaki-bombs,” when she has sparred with reporters in the briefing room, racking up millions of online views.

Other presumed contenders had seen their stock surge while on the front lines of the administration’s policy response. Amid the war in Ukraine and Washington’s fraught Afghanistan withdrawal, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby presided over must-watch daily briefings that major cable networks frequently aired live.

Still, none have attained Psaki’s reach, though not everyone has succumbed to her charm.

“There are human, relatable press secretaries, and there are robotic, relentlessly on-message, and frequently defensive ones,” said David Greenberg, the author of Republic of Spin and Nixon’s Shadow, both histories of presidential image-making. “I put Psaki in the latter category, doing her best not to say more than was strictly necessary, rarely apologizing or modifying a bad answer, and showing more contempt for than camaraderie with reporters.”


Still, Greenberg, a professor of U.S. history at Rutgers University, said he didn’t think the changing of the guard mattered much.

“Jean-Pierre seems to me a bit warmer, more down to earth,” he said. “But I don’t think the change will register much in public perception of the Biden administration.”