As the new White House Press Secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre is now the go-to voice of the Biden administration. She officially took to the lectern this morning, after Jen Psaki’s last day was on Friday. Psaki, who is reportedly headed for a new opportunity at MSNBC, announced her departure earlier this month.
Jean-Pierre is expected to bring her own style to the white-hot spotlight, which is sure to get extra heated in the coming weeks as the administration gets tough questions related to supply chain issues, the war in Ukraine, and the upcoming midterm elections, in which Democrats may lose the majority in the House. But those around her say she’s equipped for the job.
“Karine 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,” stated Biden in a press release.
Here are seven things to know about Jean-Pierre:
1. She’s a history maker.
Jean-Pierre is the first Black woman and the first openly LGBTQ person to serve as Press Secretary, since the position was first created 93 years ago.
“Representation matters and she will give a voice to many, but also make many dream big about what is truly possible,” wrote Psaki of Jean-Pierre in a thread on Twitter.
Last June, in a post for Pride Month, Jean-Pierre detailed her coming-out story, in which her mother initially rejected her identity. “Just as American society has evolved over the course of the past couple of decades to embrace the LGBTQ community (never forgetting we still have work to do), my family has evolved to embrace my membership in it,” she wrote in the thread.
2. She’s a Democratic political strategist.
This is no surprise given the nature of her new role, but the 44-year-old has a history of working with high-profile Democratic leaders. Jean-Pierre served as regional political director for the White House Office of Political Affairs during the Obama-Biden administration and as deputy battleground states director for President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign.
It was during this time that she and Biden hit it off. According to her memoir Moving Forward, Jean-Pierre and Biden had their first one-on-one conversation in 2009 when sitting next to each other on an Air Force Two flight from New Jersey. Jean-Pierre ended up traveling so much with Biden that the Secret Service gave her an official pin that allowed her special access to the then-vice president.
3. She’s the daughter of Haitian immigrants.
After her parents fled Haiti, Jean-Pierre was born in Fort-de-France on the Caribbean island of Martinique. As a five-year-old, she and her family later immigrated to Queens, New York, where she spent much of her childhood. Despite having an engineering degree, her father worked as a taxi driver, while her mother worked as a home health aide, according to the Carnegie Corporation, which had named her a 2021 Great Immigrants Recipient.
“They came here for the American dream that in many ways eluded them,” Jean-Pierre told Judy Woodruff during PBS Newshour. “They still live check to check, but in their eyes, because I made it to the White House, because their daughter went to Columbia, they have received it.”
4. She was a track-and-field star in high school.
Jean-Pierre was a lettered track-and-field athlete during her days at Long Island’s Kellenberg High School. In her memoir, Jean-Pierre describes herself as “a standout cross country runner, setting records on Long Island,” adding that she was offered track scholarships but chose to focus on academics instead. Nonetheless, she still ran on the track team at the New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury, where she graduated in 1997. She later graduated from Columbia University in 2003.
5. She was a volunteer firefighter in college.
In Moving Forward, Jean-Pierre shares that she enjoyed being a volunteer firefighter in college, writing, “I loved having a firefighter scanner in my car, a bumper sticker-size orange-and-black firefighter sign that I would put on my windshield, and a blue light at the ready to plug into my car’s cigarette charger.”
It’s not the only odd job she’s held. While working as a phone canvasser for the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Jean-Pierre also helped the group monitor piping plover bird nests on the beach. “My job was to check each morning on these magical, endangered birds,” she writes in her memoir.
6. She’s a self-proclaimed introvert.
Patrick Gaspard, who had hired Jean-Pierre as regional political director in the Obama White House, told the Los Angeles Times that she was “really shy and kind of an introvert, which is not something that you expect from someone who steps into activism and organizing.”
But Jean-Pierre has openly embraced being an introvert. She’s candid about it in her memoir and recently told Elle that “sometimes being the person who’s listening, the quieter voice, is a lot more impactful. It’s important to be who you are authentically, and people will see that.”
7. Her longtime partner, Suzanne Malveaux, is a CNN correspondent.
Jean-Pierre and her longtime partner Suzanne Malveaux, a CNN correspondent, live in Washington with their 7-year-old daughter. Malveaux’s occupation as a journalist will no doubt be the subject of close scrutiny.
But, according to the Washington Examiner, CNN has already nipped any conflict of interests in the bud. CNN spokesman Matt Dornic reportedly told the Examiner: “Suzanne Malveaux will continue in her role as CNN National Correspondent covering national/international news and cultural events but will not cover politics, Capitol Hill, or the White House while Karine Jean-Pierre is serving as White House Press Secretary.”