In the unlikely return of Jen Psaki

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Psaki emerged as the frontrunner for the post at the end of the process, within the last week or so, according to a source familiar with the decision. She and Biden had the opportunity to discuss work last Tuesday in Wilmington, Delaware, when she was there for the public deployment of her national security team.

Psaki’s rise to the post of supreme spokesperson – a role she wanted and for which she was a two-time finalist in the Obama administration – fits the President-elect’s model of turning to experienced Washington agents. to occupy the highest positions of its administration. And it signals Biden’s intention to run a White House without the kind of briefing room drama that defined his predecessor’s tenure, from Sean Spicer’s claims about crowd size to Trump’s inauguration. to Kayleigh McEnany’s misleading statements about the pandemic.

Ultimately, Psaki defeated other main contenders for the role, including Symone Sanders and Karine Jean-Pierre, due to her close ties to the former vice president combined with her expertise on economic and foreign policy issues. and his experience leading high-level press briefings. , said several people familiar with the selection.

“She is an ideal choice for them for a position that is really difficult to fill,” said Jennifer Palmieri, former director of communications at the Obama White House. “It’s hard to find someone who has credibility, whom the press likes, who fits in well with White House staff, and who can speak foreign and national security policy with a lot of credibility.”

Psaki, who turns 42 on Tuesday, oversaw the economic portfolio of the White House communications office when Biden led the implementation of the Restoration Act and was the State Department spokesperson during the tenure of John Kerry. These experiences gave Biden confidence that Psaki was best prepared to serve as the face of his administration as he faced multiple crises, including the coronavirus pandemic, the collapsing economy, and the unraveling of US alliances. worldwide.

Echoing those same themes in the first of what will likely be many relentless tweets about the posts, Psaki wrote: “Honored to work for @JoeBiden again, a man I worked for during the Obama administration- Biden as he helped lead the recovery economy, rebuilt our relationships with partners (proves to be good practice), and infused empathy and humanity into almost every meeting I attended.

Biden’s staff and cabinet choices so far match his campaign promise to restore a sense of normalcy to the Oval Office. His team so far includes people he has known and worked with for many years (such as his chief of staff Ron Klain, who started with Biden in the late 1980s) or government officials with undisputed credentials for the post (such as Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a career foreign service officer whom Biden intends to appoint as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations). Sometimes they straddle the two categories, like Tony Blinken, Biden’s longtime aide who became deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration and is Biden’s choice to move up to secretary.

“With all of these choices, they’re pretty predictable as long as they’re guided by Biden’s experience and familiarity with people,” said Lis Smith, former senior advisor to Pete Buttigieg.

The downside to Biden’s experienced mindset, according to some of the less experienced staff still waiting for a job, is that Obama veterans like Psaki have an advantage over campaign loyalists who might need help. ” on-the-job training.

The recent press secretaries to presidents in their first year in office have almost all been people who have taken on the role of a campaign perch: Jody Powell (Carter), James Brady (Reagan), George Stephanopoulos (Clinton) , Ari Fleischer (George HW Bush), Robert Gibbs (Obama), Sean Spicer (Trump). The only recent exception is Marlin Fitzwater, who served as Reagan’s press secretary at the end of that administration, and continued in that post when Reagan’s vice president George HW Bush won the presidency in 1988.

Psaki, who has young children – in fact, six of the seven members of the inbound team are moms with children ages 6 and under – told her colleagues she was sensitive to criticism from younger members. staff who see some of the Obama alumni as obstacles. . She’s made it clear that she doesn’t want the job forever (maybe months rather than years) and sees her role as preparing her successor.

“You will learn the ropes and if you are good, you will get the job when Psaki leaves,” said one of Psaki’s Obama administration colleagues, distilling the message to younger communications staff. . “But Jen just isn’t going to make a mistake. “

As with every position in the new Biden administration, diversity was a major consideration for the press secretary position. Two of the top contenders, Sanders and Jean-Pierre, both of whom are popular and have strong relationships with the DC press, are African American women. Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris has recruited Sanders for a lead role in her operation and Jean-Pierre will be Psaki’s deputy, placing her in the traditional place in which press secretaries are chosen.

A senior Biden adviser noted, while pointing out that many other jobs still needed to be filled, that there was some concern from Biden’s progressive allies about diversity.

“We have assembled an unlikely coalition to win and we will have to keep this coalition together to govern,” the person said. “We’ve had cracks over the past few weeks and people need to hold hands.

Transition sources say Anita Dunn, Biden’s trusted advisor to the campaign who chose not to join the administration, helped lead the selection process for the White House press secretary. Biden chose Psaki over less experienced candidates in part because he wanted someone like Dunn, a communications veteran with a high level of experience and seriousness who, instead of stepping up work, would be ” ready from day one, ”a term that has become a mantra for transition officers.

Psaki had several strengths that Biden liked. She has a background in the field of national security – “her first love,” as one source noted – and has faced difficult questions in front of an international audience. He also wanted someone who would adopt a tone of unity – not partisan warfare – and emphasize his election promise to bring the country closer.

“The spokesperson isn’t and shouldn’t be history because if you are, it’s usually for the wrong reasons as we’ve seen,” said Jay Carney, a former Obama press in the White House who was not involved in the selection process. “She definitely represents a throwback to a bipartisan era where the spokesperson was someone who could speak credibly on behalf of the president, the White House, the administration and the country.”

The source close to the process noted that Biden’s decision was prompted by the circumstances of the pandemic. The president-elect wanted a spokesperson who would be a reliable source of accurate information on Covid-19 policies and vaccine distribution – someone who could help restore confidence in the government, not a political fighter qualified to generate viral videos by wrestling with journalists. live in front of the camera.

“One of the things that matters to him is that the tone and the message coming from the podium be aligned with his – bringing the country together, rebuilding the institutions and trusting the government,” said the source familiar with the process. “And don’t try to win all the inflammatory political debates.”

Psaki, who will be the face of the Biden White House with the return of the daily briefings, which the president-elect has vowed to reinstate, may be the ideal avatar for the Biden transition.

“We are in a crisis and everyone needs to know how to do their job,” Psaki’s former Obama administration colleague said. “This is the trend.”

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