Once again breaking a new barrier with his administration appointments, President-elect Joe Biden announced on Sunday that former Obama White House communications director Jen Psaki will be his White House Press Secretary and that she will be backed by an all-female communications team working for himself and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
This follows the appointment of Avril Haines as the director of national security, the first woman to hold that post, and the expected announcement this week that Biden will make former Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen the first female Treasury of the Secretary.
“I am proud to announce today the first senior White House communications team comprised entirely of women,” Biden announced in a statement issued Sunday night. “These qualified, experienced communicators bring diverse perspectives to their work and a shared commitment to building this country back better.”
The other appointments include Kate Bedingfield, who served as deputy campaign manager and communications director for the Biden presidential campaign and will be White House communications director; Pili Tobar, who served as the communications director for coalitions on the campaign, as deputy White House communications director; Karine Jean-Pierre, a senior adviser on the Biden campaign who later served as chief of staff to Harris, as principal deputy press secretary; and Symone Sanders, who served as national press secretary on Sen. Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign before joining Biden’s 2020 campaign, who will be a senior adviser and the chief spokesperson for Vice President Harris. In addition, Ashley Etienne, a former aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, will be Harris’s communications director and Elizabeth Alexander, who worked for Biden while he was in the Senate before serving as his press secretary while he was vice president, will be Jill Biden’s communications director.
Psaki, who currently oversees communications for the Biden presidential transition, previously served for two years as White House communications director under President Barack Obama, and as State Department spokesperson under then-Secretary of State John Kerry. A graduate of the College of William and Mary, Psaki has also been a CNN commentator and a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
In a tweet, Psaki not only congratulated the members of the new team she will now lead but also pointed out the cultural significance that six of them are working mothers:
This is a team of some of the most talented, battle-tested communicators out there @KBeds, @K_JeanPierre, @SymoneDSanders, @AshleyEtienne09 @EAlexander, @pilitobar87—who are also all women, most diverse team in history and also 6 Moms of young kids
— Jen Psaki (@jrpsaki) November 29, 2020
Psaki will not be the first woman to serve as White House press secretary, of course. That distinction goes to Dee Dee Myers, who held that position for the first two years of the Bill Clinton administration. More recently, Donald Trump has had a quick succession of three women in the role: Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Stephanie Grisham, and the current occupant, Kayleigh McEnany. But this is the first time the entire senior team is composed of women.
In his announcement, Biden also signaled his desire to have a less combative relationship with the White House press corps (perhaps easier said than done), one that would be in contrast to the highly toxic relationship during the Trump years, which began with Sean Spicer lying about the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd and is ending with McEnany refusing to answer a question from a CNN reporter by saying, “I don’t call on activists.” (That reporter, Kaitlan Collins, responded by saying, “I’m not an activist and you haven’t taken questions since Oct. 1 … That’s not doing your job. Your taxpayer-funded job.”)
MOMENTS AGO: Kayleigh McEnany ends briefing, tells reporter asking question: "I don't call on activists." pic.twitter.com/Z2NcipiUn8
— The Hill (@thehill) November 20, 2020
“Communicating directly and truthfully to the American people is one of the most important duties of a President, and this team will be entrusted with the tremendous responsibility of connecting the American people to the White House,” Biden said in his statement.
McEnany lashed out at the Washington Post on social media on Sunday, criticizing the paper, which first broke the story, for calling the new appointments the first all-female White House communications team, saying that President Trump, Vice President Pence, and first lady Melania Trump also have senior female press aides. “The completely DISCREDITED @washingtonpost once again reveals their blinding propagandist Fake News proclivities,” she wrote, with a link to the Post article.
But, as the Post pointed out, “Unlike the team that Biden has chosen, Trump’s communications staff includes spokesmen who are regularly quoted, including Judd Deere, the White House deputy press secretary, and Brian Morganstern, the White House deputy communications director. Pence’s spokesman is Devin O’Malley.”
Elsewhere on Twitter, the reaction was more positive, including from the new vice president:
Our country is facing unprecedented challenges and to overcome them we need to communicate clearly, honestly, and transparently with the American people. This experienced, talented, and barrier-shattering team will do just that.https://t.co/uym5h93UUZ
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) November 29, 2020
Glad to see the history-making decision by the Biden team. For decades, no women were in such senior communication positions and female reporters weren’t even admitted into the White House until Eleanor Roosevelt. Join us now on @CNNnewsroom with @sbg1 and @brianstelter.
— David Gergen (@David_Gergen) November 29, 2020
The all-woman all-stars chosen to lead the Biden-Harris White House communications team are already sending a clear message to the American people: competence and integrity are back.
— Nancy Pelosi (@TeamPelosi) November 30, 2020
It’s weird that none of Biden’s senior staff hires are unqualified members of his immediate family.
— Matthew Yglesias 🍦 (@mattyglesias) November 29, 2020