Washington: US President Joe Biden on Thursday named Karine Jean-Pierre as the next White House press secretary, the first Black person to hold the high-profile post.
Jean-Pierre will replace Jen Psaki, under whom she served as deputy, from May 13.
Biden in a statement praised Jean-Pierre’s “experience, talent and integrity,” saying he was “proud” to announce her appointment.
The outgoing spokeswoman, bringing Jean-Pierre behind the podium for the traditional briefing of accredited journalists at the White House on Thursday, praised, in a voice sometimes choked with emotion, the qualities of her deputy, whom she hugged several times.
Jean-Pierre “will be the first Black woman to serve in this role,” said Psaki, who said from the outset that she would step down during Biden’s term.
Jean-Pierre’s promotion is “amazing because representation matters and she is going to give a voice to so many and show so many what is truly possible when you work hard and dream big,” Psaki added, opting not to comment on media reports that she will be joining TV channel MSNBC after leaving the White House.
Also visibly moved, the future press secretary said: “This is a historic moment and it’s not lost on me. I understand how important it is for so many people.”
The 44-year-old Jean-Pierre, who has a daughter with her partner, a CNN journalist, has already taken to the famed podium in the White House’s James S. Brady Press Briefing Room as Psaki’s number two.
From May she’ll take centre stage at the daily White House press conference, which is broadcast live and highly scrutinised.
Before her, only one other Black woman, Judy Smith, had been deputy White House press secretary, during George H.W. Bush’s presidency in 1991.
A long-time advisor to Biden, Jean-Pierre worked on both of former president Barack Obama’s campaigns in 2008 and 2012 and then on Biden’s campaign in 2020 before joining his team at the White House.
She also served under Biden during his tenure as Obama’s vice-president.
Jean-Pierre was previously chief public affairs officer for liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org and worked as a political analyst with NBC and MSNBC, the White House statement said.
Raised in New York, French-speaking Jean-Pierre was born in Martinique to Haitian parents who emigrated to the United States, where her father drove a taxi and her mother was a home health worker.
It was in New York that she took her first steps into politics before also becoming a leading figure in the non-profit sphere, having graduated from the prestigious Columbia University.
Jean-Pierre has often said her family’s background, emblematic of the “American dream,” was a determining factor in her career.
But she has also written of “the pressure of growing up in an immigrant household to succeed” in a book published in 2019.
An advocate for combatting mental health stigma, the new White House spokeswoman has also shared her own stories of being sexually abused as a child as well as suffering from depression and at one point attempting suicide.
On Thursday, when asked about the message she wanted to deliver to American youth, she said: “If you are passionate about what you want to be, where you want to go, and you work very hard to that goal it will happen.
“You’ll be knocked down and you’ll have some tough times and it won’t be easy all the time but the rewards are pretty amazing, especially if you stay true to yourself.”