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This week, the blue door will open, a black woman will walk to the lectern, and a piece of White House history will be written.

Karine Jean-Pierre, facing rows of reporters and cameras, will make her briefing room debut as the first black woman and first openly gay person in the role of press officer. Not that there will be much time to do the ceremony.

“Karine is the right person to carry the weight of being a story maker, but this aspect will last five hot minutes on the catwalk“, predicted Patrick Gaspard, a longtime colleague who is now executive director of the Center for American Progress think tank in Washington.

“About five minutes later, being first will mean next to nothing to people who hear about her and it’s certainly not a crutch Karine is going to lean on. She knows she has to be better prepared than anyone.

This indeed promises to be a baptism of fire. Jean-Pierre takes over as the main messenger for a Joe Biden administration struggling with inflation, Ukraine and a national formula shortage as the Democratic Party braces for November election losses that could put end to his control over Congress.

But the symbolism of the appointment is unavoidable after the Donald Trump era when the four press officers were white. Jean-Pierre once said, “I am everything Donald Trump hates. I’m a black woman, I’m gay, I’m a mom. Both my parents were born in Haiti.

The 47-year-old was born in Martinique to Haitian parents and grew up in New York’s Queens Village neighborhood. Early in her career, she worked for James Sanders, then a New York City Councilman, now a state senator, and the Center for Community and Corporate Ethics, pushing big corporations like Walmart to change their business practices. .

“A creator of history”: Karine Jean-Pierre ready for the position of press secretary at the White House |  Biden Administration
Karine Jean-Pierre challenges a journalist during a daily press briefing on July 29, 2021. Photography: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

She didn’t always pick the winners. Jean-Pierre was press secretary to Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York, later imprisoned for sending sexually explicit text messages to a minor, and was on the presidential campaign trail for John Edwards, who also fell out of favor in a sex scandal.

But her big break came when Gaspard hired her to work on Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008, then to the Obama White House as a regional director in the Office of Political Affairs. Gaspard, the son of Haitian immigrants, said: “She and I were in the trenches together. We are a Haitian-American family.

“She and I can sometimes end our thoughts on each other just based on the culture we’re steeped in.. There is a deep sense of public service and integrity of governance that is really important to most immigrant communities and certainly to Haitian Americans who appreciate that there are opportunities for democratic service here. which are tragically denied to them at home..”

Jean-Pierre served as deputy campaign manager during Martin O’Malley’s 2016 presidential campaign, then public affairs director for the popular progressive group MoveOn.

At one of her events in 2019, an animal rights protester took to the stage and attempted to grab Senator Kamala Harris’ microphone. Jean-Pierre kept her cool, jumping up from his chair to chase him away. Former colleagues say she has the ideal temperament for the pressure cooker in the briefing room with her sometimes hostile questioning.

Ben Wikler, former senior adviser to MoveOn, now chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, said, “One of Karine’s superpowers is keeping her cool in the face of chaos and high stakes.”

“A creator of history”: Karine Jean-Pierre ready for the position of press secretary at the White House |  Biden Administration
Jen Psaki and Karine Jean-Pierre listen during a press briefing at the White House. Photograph: Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

“She has extensive experience in political and communications roles and doing a lot of live TV work has really given her a sense of poise and confidence to handle sensitive and breaking news situations. “

He added: “Everyone’s blood temperature went down when she got the microphone because they knew she was so good at bringing things back to the message that needed to be delivered.”

Jean-Pierre appeared as a political analyst on the NBC and MSNBC networks but, with the election of Biden, returned to the White House. As the senior deputy press secretary, she sometimes gave briefings in the absence of Psaki, for example when the latter was sick with the coronavirus.

Psaki, a self-proclaimed politician, told The New York Times that before the door to the briefing room opens, the two women often do a dance to shake their nerves. While Psaki would now head to MSNBC, Biden offered Jean-Pierre the top job in the Oval Office.

A day after her nomination, she received a standing ovation at a recent media awards ceremony in New York hosted by LGBTQ+ organization Glaad. Sarah Kate Ellis, its Managing Director and President, said: “Just when we thought her standing ovation would die down, the Glaad Media Awards audience gave another round of applause, because representation matters.

“A creator of history”: Karine Jean-Pierre ready for the position of press secretary at the White House |  Biden Administration
Karine Jean-Pierre replaces Jen Psaki during her absence for Covid. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

“When Karine steps onto the podium as a publicist, every little girl, especially black girls, and every LGBTQ child, will see that they can belong as they are, that you can be LGBTQ and that you can contribute and be valued wherever you go. Karine represents the best of America and what we can be.

Jean-Pierre’s companion is Suzanne Malveaux, CNN correspondent. Amid questions about potential conflicts of interest, the network said Malveaux “will continue in his role as CNN’s national correspondent covering national/international news and cultural events, but will not cover politics, Capitol Hill or the White House”.

At her 224th and final briefing on Friday — more than all of Trump’s press officers combined, but with slightly less drama or viewership — Psaki was asked what lessons she wanted to pass on to Jean-Pierre, who smiled from his familiar position beside it. from the room.

“The last thing I would say is that it can get repetitive here at times,” she said. “This is not a criticism. You are all doing your job. But in the age of social media, always provide context and all the details, because you never want to be a one-line meme.

“But otherwise be yourself and Karine, as I said last week, is going to bring her own magic, her brilliance, her style to this briefing room.”

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