WASHINGTON — President Biden on Thursday selected Karine Jean-Pierre, the principal deputy press secretary, to replace Jen Psaki as the top White House spokeswoman, making her the first Black woman to hold one of the most high-profile jobs in American politics.
Ms. Jean-Pierre, who worked on Mr. Biden’s campaign and has had a long career in Democratic communications, will become the president’s second White House press secretary. In her new role, she will have the high-pressure job of delivering daily briefings from the lectern in the briefing room.
In a statement, Mr. Biden said Ms. Jean-Pierre “not only brings the experience, talent and integrity needed for this difficult job, but she will continue to lead the way in communicating about the work of the Biden-Harris administration on behalf of the American people.”
He predicted that she would be “a strong voice speaking for me and this administration.”
Ms. Psaki’s last day as press secretary will be May 13. She is expected to take an on-air role with MSNBC.
“I’m going to cry,” Ms. Psaki said on Thursday before turning to the row of seats where Ms. Jean-Pierre usually observes the news briefing and waving for her to come to the lectern.
After noting that her successor will be the first Black woman and openly gay person to serve as press secretary, Ms. Psaki said that Ms. Jean-Pierre “will give a voice to so many.”
Ms. Jean-Pierre, 44, will face the challenge of conveying the administration’s message ahead of midterm elections that are expected to pose a significant challenge for Democrats. Mr. Biden’s team has acknowledged that administration officials have struggled to traverse the country and speak to the public during the pandemic, and the president himself has said he should be traveling more and talking to voters about his priorities.
Mr. Biden has added other communications veterans to his team recently. Ian Sams, who had been a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, has joined the White House staff as a spokesman for the counsel’s office. And Anita Dunn, a top Biden adviser during his campaign and early in his presidency, will leave the political consulting firm SKDK and rejoin the administration as a senior adviser to Mr. Biden.
Ms. Jean-Pierre has taken the lectern in the White House briefing room on a few occasions; last May, she became the first Black woman in decades to address reporters on behalf of the president in the briefing room. Her more frequent formal interactions with the news media came aboard Air Force One, where she often delivered news briefings during Mr. Biden’s trips.
But the sense of history being made was not lost on members of the White House press team or reporters attending a news briefing on Thursday that displayed both celebrations of representation and the polarizing issues dividing the country. The briefing shifted among emotional tributes, a presentation of seized Russian yachts, inspiring messages and shouted questions about Mr. Biden’s stance on abortion.
Asked about the historic nature of her promotion, Ms. Jean-Pierre responded, “It’s not lost on me.”
“I understand how important it is for so many people out there, so many different communities,” she said. “That I stand on their shoulders, and I have been throughout my career.”
Ms. Jean-Pierre said she thought it was important for young Black children to see someone who looks like them behind the presidential lectern.
“Follow your passion, follow what you believe in and just keep that focus,” she said.
Mr. Biden called Ms. Jean-Pierre into the Oval Office on Thursday afternoon to formally offer her the position, according to a White House official. The press team celebrated by drinking warm champagne in Styrofoam cups bearing the presidential seal, the official said.
Before stepping down from the lectern, Ms. Jean-Pierre was asked if she ever doubted that she would be able to attain the position of press secretary as a Black woman.
“No, not at all,” she said. “Just worked hard towards it. But I understand how hard it is. I do.”