Karine Jean-Pierre commands White House podium in rare moment for Black woman

EXCLUSIVE: The deputy White House press secretary is the first Black woman in 30 years to lead the press briefing room, following in the footsteps of Judy Smith in 1991

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Deputy White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Wednesday commanded the White House podium and room filled with White House reporters eager to pepper her with questions about President Joe Biden’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, police reform and everything in between. 

White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre
White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre arrives at a daily press briefing at the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House April 22, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

“I appreciate the moment and I’m honored to have the moment,” Karine Jean-Pierre told theGrio.

Women have commanded the press briefing podium over the years. That is historic but not new. What is exceptional and not the norm at the White House Briefing Room is a Black woman holding it down for the daily press briefing. Jean-Pierre is the first Black woman to command the podium in 30 years.

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“It is an honor being behind that podium and I want to make sure I give it due respect,” Jean-Pierre emphasized. “It’s about how are we doing the job so that we’re making sure that we are lifting up the people’s voices everyday.”

Jean-Pierre follows in the footsteps of Judy Smith who commanded the White House Briefing Room during the George H.W. Bush presidency in 1991. Shonda Rhimes famously based her Olivia Pope character (played by Kerry Washington) on Smith’s role in the Bush administration. 

Judy Smith
Judy Smith speaks onstage at OZY Fusion Fest 2016 at Rumsey Playfield in Central Park on July 23, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images for Ozy Fusion Fest)

In this historic moment, Jean-Pierre will step in front of the microphone on the flag-draped podium becoming the spokesperson for the highest office in the land. She will handle the James Brady Briefing Room at a time when a president is promoting equity in every facet of life — which includes the halls of government.

Karine Jean-Pierre answered questions from a crowd of 24 journalists due to COVID-19. A larger press gathering is expected to return to the White House soon. 

During the briefing when asked about the historic nature of her standing at the podium, Jean-Pierre said that it was an “honor,” but emphasized the moment was bigger than her.

“I believe being behind the 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,” she said. “Clearly the president believes representation matters and I appreciate him giving me this opportunity. It’s another reason why we are also proud this is the most diverse administration in history.”

She ended her remarks promising that anytime she is behind the podium she will be “truthful” and “transparent.”

Martha Joynt Kumar, a presidential scholar who has observed White House Briefings since 1975 contends, “the press secretary channels information from the White House to reporters .. it is information [and] reporters want answers.”

The position of a press secretary is to serve as a communicator “between the press and the president” with “the expectation of accuracy and information on a timely basis” on all issues and current events. 

Karine Jean-Pierre is the daughter of Haitian immigrants. Prior to working with the Biden administration, Karine was an author, campaign organizer and TV commentator. 

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