By Kate Powell
With a cool, confident demeanor and political expertise, Jen Psaki, Biden’s new White House Press Secretary, is bringing professionalism to the White House Press Briefings.
Jen Psaki was born and raised in Stamford, Connecticut. After attending the College of William & Mary, with a double major in English and sociology, Psaki quickly found a spot in the country’s political framework. In 2001, a year after graduating, Psaki became a member of the re-election campaign for Democratic Iowian senator, Tom Harkin, as well as for Tom Vilsack, who was running for governor at the time. She moved through the ranks quite instantaneously, developing an impressive political résumé. In 2004, she was appointed Deputy Press Secretary under Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, a Democrat currently serving as the United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate under Biden.
Psaki then worked on Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign as a travelling press secretary. Following his inauguration, she took on the role of Deputy Press Secretary, and nearing the end of Obama’s first year, was advanced to the more esteemed position of Deputy Communications Director. She served as Obama’s press secretary in his following re-election campaign in 2012, and the following year, was the spokesperson for the United States Department of State. Again in 2015, she took the position of Communications Director under Obama, this time no longer as a deputy.
Her vast experience has proved her fit for the responsibilities of White House Press Secretary, and the ensuing praise and relief from the public and the press after her first briefing, readiness for the job at hand. Psaki began her first briefing as Press Secretary, on January 20th, opening her half-hour long meeting with the statement: “…I saw the power of the United States and, of course, the power of this podium, and the power of truth, and the importance of setting an example of engagement and transparency. So I will just state – because you gave me the opportunity – I have deep respect for the role of a free and independent press in our democracy and for the role all of you play.” Her respect for the media distinguishes her from her predecessors with the Trump Administration. During his four years in office, Trump went through four press secretaries. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, his second White House Press Secretary, who held the position the longest for nearly 2 years, had a 94 day dry-spell with no press briefings. And Stephanie Grisham, his third press secretary, never held a White House press briefing in her 281 days in office.
Jen Psaki has reinstated the precedent of daily press briefings first established by Joseph Tumulty in the early 1900s, during Woodrow Wilson’s presidency. Michael Beschloss, the revered presidential historian, often seen on PBS NewsHour and NBC, following Psaki’s briefing on Jan 25th, tweeted, “White House briefing showing civility and respect. What was old is new again.” Psaki has also announced that a sign language interpreter will be present at every press briefing. (Although the chosen ASL interpreter, Heather Mewshaw, has now received harsh backlash due to her management of a far-right group, where she provided sign language for videos promoting conspiracy theories and misinformation about the vaccine, Michelle Obama, and the 2020 election, among others.)
Additionally, Jen Psaki is a member of the first ever all-female senior communications staff at the White House. It is a diverse team of six that is composed of: Kate Bedingfield, White House Communications Director, Elizabeth E. Alexander, Communications Director for the First Lady, Ashley Etienne, Communications Director for the Vice President, Symone Sanders, Senior Advisor and Chief Spokesman for the Vice President, Pili Tobar, Deputy White House Communications Director, Karine Jean-Pierre, Principal Deputy Press Secretary, and Jen Psaki herself. It will be interesting to see what will happen in future briefings.