Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre

Wednesday at the White House featured Karine Jean-Pierre, a new voice in the James Brady Press Briefing Room. Delaney Tarr reports on the three main highlights from the White House Press Briefing. 

Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre took the podium today to deliver the White House Press Briefing. Jean-Pierre is only the second Black woman to lead a press briefing and the first in roughly three decades. Judy Smith, the deputy press secretary to George H.W. Bush and an inspiration for the Olivia Pope character on Scandal, was first.

Jean-Pierre is also the first openly gay spokeswoman to address the public from the White House podium. Jean-Pierre had previously gaggled on the Air Force One with reporters and smaller audiences but moved for the first time onto a world stage speaking to the press today. The briefing raises questions of whether Jeanne-Pierre will move into Press Secretary Jen Psaki’s role when she exits the post next year. 

The position of Press Secretary has always been a revolving door, with each administration hosting multiple people in the post. The Trump administration was known for its particularly volatile press relations and high turnaround, with officials like Sean Spicer leaving the role after only six months. Since Trump, the current administration, and Press Secretary Jen Psaki have softened once hostile press relations. 

Here are the three main highlights from the White House Press Briefing for May 26, 2021. 

1. Biden asks Intelligence Community to double down on COVID-19 origins 

The President has asked the intelligence community to redouble efforts to collect and analyze information to bring a definitive answer on the origins of COVID-19 within the next 90 days. With more than 600,000 Americans dead from the virus, the President continues to focus on gaining information to help understand and end the pandemic. A recent U.S. intelligence report revealed that three researchers in the Wuhan lab were hospitalized in late 2019, which drew questions on the true origin of COVID-19. 

The revelation has prompted a departure from the previous White House strategy of supporting the World Health Organization and a move into U.S. investigation. 

Jeanne-Pierre rebuffed claims that the Biden administration now suspected a lab accident and said the White House is inconclusive on the root of the virus. Still, they will press China to participate in an international investigation. China has previously avoided transparency with the WHO, but the White House says it will continue to push for an evidence-based investigation. 

2. Biden pushes for Gun Reform amidst another mass shooting

In the wake of today’s shooting in San Jose, California, President Biden called on the Senate to pass background check bills. An employee opened fire at a California rail yard, killing nine people, including the suspect, and injuring others. The White House is monitoring the situation and is in contact with local officials. The tragedy is another instance in a long list of shootings in America that President Biden calls a “gun violence epidemic”. 

In response to the San Jose shooting, Biden called on Congress to take action, specifically with the three bills to strengthen background checks that have cleared in the house. When asked about bipartisan effort, the Deputy Press Secretary said the President talks to many Republicans and Democrats on the hill but asserted a call on Congress as his main legislative push. 

3. White House highlights Infrastructure Efforts in American Jobs Plan

As millions of Americans struggle with housing, the Biden administration focuses on key housing elements of the Job Plan. The plan proposes a $213 billion investment in America’s housing infrastructure through federal programs and proposals. The investment is matched with the expansion of tax credits and incentives to lower barriers to affordable housing. 

The proposal is still in negotiations between Democrats and Republicans. Biden says the democrats are negotiating in “good faith” and is steadfast on his refusal to tax Americans making less than $400,000 a year. Senator Chris Coons has stated he feels the Senate could pass the proposal with traditional infrastructure. The Biden administration will have more comments as negotiations continue. 

The Deputy Press Secretary paused discussions of policy and legislation when asked how it felt to make history as the first Black woman to stand behind the White House podium in 30 years. Jeanne-Pierre said it was an honor to be there but quickly refocused. “Being in this building is not about one person, it’s about what we do on behalf of the American people,” said Jean-Pierre. 

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