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Inside the unlikely return of Jen Psaki



According to a source familiar with the decision, Psaki has emerged as a favorite for work at the end of the process, in the last week or so. She and Biden had the opportunity to discuss the work last Tuesday in Wilmington, Del., When she was there for the public release of his national security team.

Psaki’s rise to the position of top speaker – the one she wanted and for which she was twice a runner-up in the Obama administration – fits into the newly elected president’s model of turning to experienced Washington operators to take senior positions in his administration. And this signals Biden’s intention to run the White House without such drama, which determines the mandate of his predecessor, from Sean Spicer̵

7;s claims about the size of Trump’s inaugural crowd to Kaylee McEnnany’s misleading statements about the pandemic.

Psaki eventually defeated other leading contenders for the role, including Simone Sanders and Karin Jean-Pierre, for her strong ties to the former vice president, combined with her experience in economic and foreign policy issues and experience in holding senior press briefings, many said. familiar with the choice.

“It’s the perfect choice for them for a job that’s really hard to fill,” said Jennifer Palmieri, a former communications director at the Obama White House. “It’s hard to find someone who has confidence, likes the press, communicates well with White House staff, and can speak on foreign policy and national security issues with great credibility.”

Psaki, who turns 42 on Tuesday, led the economic portfolio at the White House communications office when Biden led the implementation of the Recovery Act and served as a State Department spokesman during John Kerry’s term. These experiences gave Biden the confidence that Psaki was best prepared to serve as the face of his administration, as he faced many crises, including the coronavirus pandemic, the collapse of the economy, and the collapse of American alliances around the world.

Reiterating these same themes in the first of the most likely relentless tweets, Psaki wrote: “I deserved to work again for @JoeBiden, a man I worked on behalf of during the Obama-Biden administration while helping to lead an economic recovery, I re-established my relationship with my partners (it turned out to be a good practice) and brought empathy and humanity to almost every meeting I sat at. “

So far, Biden and cabinet officials have responded to his campaign promise to restore a sense of normalcy to the Oval Office. His team so far includes either people he has known and worked with for many years (such as his chief of staff, Ron Klein, who began working with Biden in the late 1980s), or government officials with undisputed authority to do so. work (such as Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a career officer in a foreign service whom Biden intends to nominate as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations). Sometimes they cross both categories, such as Tony Blinken, Biden’s longtime aide, who has risen to deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration and is Biden’s choice to move up to secretary.

“With all these choices, they are quite predictable, as they are guided by Biden’s experience and knowledge of the people,” said Lis Smith, a former senior adviser to Pete Butigig.

The disadvantage of Biden’s initial experience, according to some of the less experienced employees still waiting for work, is that Obama veterans like Psaki have an advantage over campaign loyalists who may need on-the-job training.

The recent presidential press secretaries in their first year in office were almost all of the people involved in the campaign: Jody Powell (Carter), James Brady (Reagan), George Stefanopoulos (Clinton), Ari Fleischer (George H.W.). ) Bush), Robert Gibbs (Obama), Sean Spicer (Trump). A recent exception is Marlin Fitzwater, who was Reagan’s press secretary at the end of the administration and continued to work when Reagan’s vice president, George H. W. Bush, won the presidency in 1988.

Psaki, who has young children – in fact, six of the seven members of the incoming communications team are mothers with children 6 or younger – told her colleagues she was sensitive to criticism from younger employees who saw some of the alumni. of Obama as obstacles. She has made it clear that she does not want the job forever (maybe months, not years) and sees her role as a preparation for her successor.

“You’ll learn the ropes, and if you’re good, you’ll get the job when Psaki leaves,” said one of Pamaki’s Obama administration colleagues, distilling the message sent to younger communications officials. “But Jen just won’t go wrong.”

As with any position in Biden’s new administration, diversity was a key consideration for the press attaché’s work. The two best candidates, Sanders and Jean-Pierre, both liked and have strong ties to the DC press, are African-American women. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris has appointed Sanders to lead her operation, and Jean-Pierre will replace Psaki, putting her in the traditional position of press secretary.

One of Biden’s top advisers noted, though he noted that many more jobs still needed to be filled, that there was some concern from Biden’s progressive allies about diversity.

“We have put together an incredible coalition to win and we will have to support it together to govern,” the man said. “We’ve had some cracks in the last few weeks and people need a manual grip.”

According to transition sources, Anita Dunn, Biden’s trusted campaign adviser who chose not to join the administration, helped start the process of electing a White House spokesman. Biden chose Psaki among less experienced candidates, in part because he wanted someone like Dunn, a communications veteran with a high level of experience and gravity, who instead of getting involved, would be “ready on day one,” a term that has become in a mantra for officials in transition.

Psaki had several assets that Biden liked. She has experience in national security – “his first love”, as one source notes – and a history of facing difficult issues for an international audience. He also wanted someone to embrace a tone of unity – not a party war – and emphasize his campaign promise to bring the country together.

“The speaker is not and should not be the story, because if you are, it’s usually for bad reasons, as we’ve seen,” said Jay Carney, a former Obama White House spokesman who was not involved in the selection process. “It is definitely a return to an era that is bipartisan, when the speaker is someone who can speak authentically on behalf of the president, the White House and the administration, and the country.”

A source familiar with the case noted that Biden’s decision was due to the circumstances of the pandemic. The president-elect wanted a spokesman to be a reliable source of accurate information on Covid-19 policies and vaccine distribution – someone who could help restore confidence in government, not a political fighter who could generate viral videos through sparring. with live reporters on camera.

“One of the things that is important to him is that the tone and the message coming from the podium are in line with his – unification of the country, restoration of institutions and trust in the government,” said the source familiar with the process. “And he’s not trying to win every heated political debate.”

Psaki, who will be the face of Biden’s White House with the return of daily briefings that the newly elected president promised to restore, could be the perfect avatar of Biden’s transition.

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


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