The new White House press secretary has been in a long-term relationship and shares a daughter with a prominent CNN correspondent, raising questions on whether the already ethical-challenged and scandal-scarred network can offer impartial coverage.
Karine Jean-Pierre, 44, who takes over from Jen Psaki on May 13 after serving as her deputy, is partners with CNN’s national correspondent Suzanne Malveaux, 55, and the pair share a seven-year-old daughter, Soleil.
And, while the trailblazing and historic nature of her appointment was being celebrated by many – Jean-Pierre is the first black woman and first openly gay person to do the job – others were alarmed by conflicts of interest.
The network has had to weather the firing of Chris Cuomo in December over his involvement in brother Andrew Cuomo’s sex harassment scandal and then two months later dumped network president Jeff Zucker over his secret romance with CNN co-worker Allison Gollust.
Juwan Holmes, associate editor of the online magazine LGBTQ Nation, spent the last two years writing about Jean-Pierre’s work, and said he anticipated the concern.
‘I’m sure there won’t be Cuomo-level conflict of interest violations but expect it to have it bought up in the future…’ he said.
Others quickly slammed the network.
‘This is one of many examples of the corporate media LITERALLY in bed with the government it covers,’ tweeted Alex Marlow, editor-in-chief of Breitbart.
Jean-Pierre and Malveaux are pictured with their daughter Soleil, born in 2014
Karine Jean-Pierre, 44, and her partner Suzanne Malveaux, CNN’s national correspondent, 55, are pictured on Saturday night at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner
Malveaux is pictured with their daughter, Soleil, who was born in 2014. The pair are seen celebrating Mardi Gras
Another asked: ‘What is the name of the Universe where this is not a Conflict of Interest?’
Malveaux, who joined CNN in 2002, and Jean-Pierre are familiar faces on the DC scene – most recently attending the White House Correspondents’ Dinner together on Saturday night.
The pair met in 2012 at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Psaki admitted she was struggling to fight back tears as she introduced Jean-Pierre as her successor, calling her her ‘partner in truth’.
‘I’m going to cry’, an emotional Psaki said at the start of her briefing on Thursday as she brought her successor up to the podium and hugged her.
‘I just want to take the opportunity to celebrate and congratulate my friend, my colleague, my partner in truth Karine Jean-Pierre, the next White House Press Secretary,’ Psaki said.
Fox News’ Peter Doocy then said he will miss his favorite sparring partner Psaki in the briefing room. She dryly responded by saying: ‘Will you?’
Psaki refused to comment on her future amid speculation she will likely head to MSNBC, and said she is only looking forward to ‘sleeping’ and ‘reading books’.
She then asked reporters for Netflix suggestions.
‘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,’ Biden said in a statement.
Biden said he and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden ‘have known and respected Karine a long time and she will be a strong voice speaking for me and this Administration.’
He went on to praise Psaki’ for ‘returning decency’ to the White House briefing room in what appears to be a veiled jab at the Trump administration’s more combative relationship with the press.
‘Jen Psaki has set the standard for returning decency, respect and decorum to the White House Briefing Room,’ Biden said. ‘I want to say thank you to Jen for raising the bar, communicating directly and truthfully to the American people, and keeping her sense of humor while doing so.’
Jen Psaki admitted she was struggling to fight back tears as she introduced her ‘partner in truth’ Karine Jean-Pierre as President Joe Biden’s new press secretary
‘I just want to take the opportunity to celebrate and congratulate my friend, my colleague, my partner in truth Karine Jean-Pierre, the next White House Press Secretary,’ she said at the start of her briefing on Thursday
‘I thank Jen her service to the country, and wish her the very best as she moves forward.’
The Columbia University grad was born in Martinique, and served as chief of staff to now-Vice President Kamala Harris on the Biden campaign.
Jean-Pierre also worked in the Obama administration as Regional Political Director for the White House Office of Political Affairs, and on both of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns.
Before joining Biden’s presidential bid she was an MSNBC and NBC political analyst and held roles at MoveON.org and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Who is Karine Jean-Pierre?
Jean-Pierre, 44, who serves as Psaki’s deputy, has stepped in to fill the press secretary’s shoes on multiple occasions, including during both of Psaki’s Covid situations.
She is well-accustomed to the press, having briefed repeatedly on presidential trips and having taken turns at the podium herself without incident or veering off script.
She is known for keeping a close grip on the binder of information compiled for briefers, and takes pains not to get far from its contents. That is what she did when she jumped on President Biden’s trip to Europe last month on short notice following Psaki’s positive covid test.
She briefed reporters aboard Air Force One en route, but kept a low profile on the trip during Biden’s rounds of diplomacy.
Psaki lauded Jean-Pierre’s historic appointment in a statement on Twitter.
‘She will be the first black woman and the first openly LGBTQ+ person to serve as the White House Press Secretary. Representation matters and she will give a voice to many, but also make many dream big about what is truly possible,’ the outgoing press secretary said.
Psaki said Jean-Pierre has ‘decades of experience from her early years working in government and politics in NYC, to her years as an outspoken advocate, to serving as a long-time advisor to [Biden] back when he was the VP.’
‘She is passionate. She is smart and she has a moral core that makes her not just a great colleague, but an amazing Mom and human. Plus, she has a great sense of humor,’ Psaki praised.
Jean-Pierre has stepped in for Psaki at the podium multiple times in the first part of Biden’s administration – perhaps most notably when the press secretary was out after testing positive for COVID-19.
Along with her new promotion, the White House also announced Thursday that former senior Biden adviser Anita Dunn would be returning to the administration in the same role.
Dunn left the White House in August 2021. She is also an Obama veteran, having served in the role of acting communications director in the former president’s administration in 2009.
Psaki, for her own part, has kept mum over her future job prospects – presumably for ethical reasons.
When asked about potential ethical concerns about her reportedly joining MSNBC while still at the podium, Psaki said during an April 1 briefing that she has ‘abided’ by any and all ethics guidelines without confirming the report.
‘Well, there are a range of stringent ethical and legal requirements that are imposed on everybody in this administration and many administrations past about any conversations you’re having with future employers,’ she deflected at the time.
‘That is true of any industry you’re working in. And I have abided by those, and tried to take steps to go beyond that as well.’
She added, fresh off a stint of isolation due to COVID: ‘I have nothing to confirm about my length of public service or planned service, or anything about consideration about next plans. I’m very happy to be standing with all of you here today after it felt like a never ending endless time in my basement quarantining away from my family.’
Other names that were potentially floated to replace Psaki are Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby, State Department spokesman Ned Price and Communications Director Kate Bedingfield.
Jean-Pierre takes on the role as the White House faces an uphill battle to help Democrats hold onto the House and Senate in this fall’s midterm elections, and as the administration struggles to address Americans’ concerns about soaring inflation and the state of the economy.
She also comes into the job as Biden faces a daunting array of foreign policy challenges, including the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine and North Korea’s escalating nuclear testing program.
Biden is set to visit South Korea and Japan later this month and Europe in June.
Taking the lectern briefly while Psaki briefed the press on Thursday, Jean-Pierre said she was ‘still processing’ the significance of her hire.
She called it ‘an honor and privilege to be behind this podium.’
‘This is a historic moment, and it’s not lost on me,’ she said. ‘It’s a very emotional day.’