Karine Jean-Pierre talks having ‘swag’ and the hardest job in the White House

“I'm representing the Black community, the Caribbean community, the LGBTQ community. And it is incredibly important to me that I do that well," Jean-Pierre tells theGrio.

On any given day inside the White House press briefing room with television cameras zoomed in at the podium, all eyes are fixated on Karine Jean-Pierre. The White House press secretary is not only the spokesperson for the president of the United States, but she is also the first Black person, the first LGBTQ+ person, and the first immigrant to hold the position.

As press secretary for President Joe Biden, Jean-Pierre is often the first voice that Americans hear from the White House. Through good news, like the prison release of WNBA star Brittney Griner after almost 10 months of being wrongfully detained in Russia, and tragic news, like when nine Black Americans were murdered inside of a grocery store in Buffalo, New York.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre conducts the daily briefing at the White House on June 5. She said the weight of the role “is not for everyone.” (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Through it all and after more than a year at the podium, Jean-Pierre tells theGrio, “I love my job.”

“I know it probably sounds crazy to some people out there, but I do,” she said during a sit-down interview highlighting her historic role for Pride Month

“I will never have an opportunity like this or a job like this ever [again],” Jean-Pierre explained. “And it is such a critical moment … to be at this podium right now because of what’s going on, not just in the country, but around the world.”

The France-born daughter of Haitian immigrants says she understands the importance of her role – one that some say is the hardest job in the White House outside of the presidency itself. 

“Ron Klain, the former chief of staff, used to say to me, ‘You have the hardest job in this building,’” recalled Jean-Pierre, who said it can often feel like having the “weight of the world” on her shoulders when she goes to the briefing room podium. “It is not for everyone,” she added.

The day in the life of a White House press secretary can be hectic. Jean-Pierre often spends hours preparing for briefings with her team of 12 staffers and Biden-Harris administration officials to craft messaging to White House reporters and, by proxy, the American people. Part of her job is also going straight to the source when necessary.

President Joe Biden meets in the Oval Office in January 2022 with Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said she sometimes must go directly to Biden for messaging at briefings. (Photo by Tom Brenner-Pool/New York Times/Getty Images)

“I also have to sometimes go directly to the president and say, ‘Hey, Mr. President, what is it you want me to say’ on this particular issue,” said Jean-Pierre. “Or just listening to him and [hearing] what he thinks on various items that [are] important to the American people.”

On his behalf, as press secretary, she has been particularly clear in communicating the president’s support for the Black and LGBTQ+ communities.  

“It’s the most pro-equality administration in history,” she declared, recalling Biden’s nomination of the first Black woman, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court and his signing of the Respect for Marriage Act, which codified same-sex marriage into law for the first time in U.S. history. 

Speaking for the president sometimes includes defending him and his record when challenged by the press or others. Though it’s a position one could easily find daunting, Jean-Pierre acknowledged that her confidence, or as theGrio puts it, her “swag” in the role has grown over time. 

“Other people have said that to me,” she recalled. “You need to be confident if you’re going to be at the podium.” However, she acknowledged, “We’re not going to get everything right, and that’s OK, but we’re going to do our best to do the business of the American people.”

With such a high-profile position in the White House comes a lot of opinions, from the airwaves of Fox News to timelines on social media. To preserve herself, Jean-Pierre said she prefers to tune it all out.

In such a high-profile position, reading about herself is not on the to-do list, says White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, arriving May 23 for the daily press briefing. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

“I don’t read anything good about myself, and I don’t read anything bad about myself,” she revealed. “I put it to the side [and] I do my business … the best way that I can on behalf of the president.”

Other acts of self-care for Jean-Pierre include going for runs and spending time with her 9-year-old daughter, whom she described as “my whole life.”  

“Being there for her the best way that I can as a mom is so important,” she said. “That gives me … rejuvenation.”

Jean-Pierre said she learned the importance of self-care in her first stint at the White House during the administration of President Barack Obama. It’s what allows her to continue showing up each day on behalf of Biden and his administration, which spans more than 400 federal agencies.

During a time like Pride Month, when hundreds of pieces of anti-LGBTQ legislation are being proposed across the country, she especially knows now is a critical time for the White House.

“There is still a lot of hatred out there, and there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done,” she said. “This is a community that we love, and we make it very clear that this is a community that we’re going to fight for.”

Jean-Pierre is very aware of this moment in U.S. history, as the very communities she represents intersectionally are at the center of bans and prohibitions in state legislatures across the country as Republican lawmakers seek to eliminate the teaching of race, sexuality and gender identity in classrooms. For many, she represents what is still possible for Black, queer and immigrant Americans.

“It’s not lost on me, the communities that I represent and what I mean to those communities and how they view me at the podium and how important it is to them,” said Jean-Pierre. “I’m representing the Black community, the Caribbean community, the LGBTQ community. And it is incredibly important to me that I do that well.”

Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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