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Biden announces Karine Jean-Pierre as White House Press Secretary

Her place in history is marked by her elevation as the first both Black and Lesbian White House Press Secretary

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Karine Jean-Pierre conducts press briefing in November 2021 (Screenshot/White House YouTube)

WASHINGTON – The White House announced Thursday that Karine Jean-Pierre has been promoted to be Assistant to the President and White House Press Secretary.  Jean-Pierre will replace current Press Secretary Jen Psaki, who will depart from the White House on May 13.

“I am proud to announce that Karine Jean-Pierre will serve as the next White House Press Secretary, President Biden said in the statement released Thursday.

“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. Jill and I have known and respected Karine a long time and she will be a strong voice speaking for me and this Administration.

“Jen Psaki has set the standard for returning decency, respect and decorum to the White House Briefing Room. 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. I thank Jen her service to the country, and wish her the very best as she moves forward.”

Jean-Pierre was named to her first role in the Biden Administration as Deputy White House press secretary under Psaki in November of 2020.

Although Jean-Pierre is not the first Black woman to hold the position as Deputy White House press secretary, that honor belonging to former President George H.W. Bush’s Deputy White House Press Secretary, Judy A. Smith in 1991, and not the first openly gay person to brief the press, Eric Schultz served as Deputy White House Press Secretary during the Obama Administration in 2014; Jean-Pierre’s place in history, however, is cemented as a result of her being the first both Black and Lesbian Deputy Press Secretary.

Now her place in history is marked by her elevation as the first both Black and Lesbian White House Press Secretary.

The daughter of immigrant parents from Haiti, Jean-Pierre was born in Martinique and later raised in Queens, a borough of New York City. A longtime activist and communications specialist, she has a Master’s in Public Affairs conferred on her by New York’s Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs, where she taught as an adjunct professor and lecturer in international and public affairs since 2014.

During the first term of President Barack Obama she served as the regional political director for the White House Office of Political Affairs.

Speaking with the Advocate magazine in June of 2011 Jean-Pierre reflected on her tenure working for the Obama Administration as an openly LGBT staffer.

“What’s been wonderful is that I was not the only; I was one of many. President Obama didn’t hire LGBT staffers, he hired experienced individuals who happen to be LGBT,” she says. “Serving and working for President Obama where you can be openly gay has been an amazing honor. It felt incredible to be a part of an administration that prioritizes LGBT issues.”

In 2016 after her White House stint, Jean-Pierre served as a Senior Advisor and National Spokesperson for Washington D.C. based MoveOn, a progressive non-profit public policy advocacy group and political action committee. Her primary portfolio at the non-profit was addressing President Trump’s rhetoric and platform of hate, violence, racism, immigrant-bashing, and women-bashing.

Karine Jean-Pierre and the late civil rights icon, Congressman John Lewis, (D-GA) at an event in Dallas, Texas in October 2018. (Photograph Courtesy of Karine Jean-Pierre and MoveOn.)

She also served as the deputy campaign manager for former Democratic Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s 2016 campaign run for the Oval Office.

Jean-Pierre received national recognition after a June 1, 2019 incident during the MoveOn Big Ideas Forum she was moderating in San Francisco, when 24 year-old Aidan Cook, a member of the animal right activist organization Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), rushed the stage grabbing the microphone out of then California U.S. Senator Kamala Harris’s hand. The Senator was a candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination at the time of the incident.

Animal rights activist Aidan Cook rushes the stage as Karine Jean-Pierre rushes to protect Senator Kamala Harris and retrieve the microphone Cook snatched from Harris’s hand. (Screenshot via YouTube)

Jean-Pierre, who had jumped in between Cook and the Senator after he took the microphone kept the activist away from Harris until security arrived and removed him. At the time of the incident, Harris, like most other candidates in early stages of the primary process, didn’t have a U.S. Secret Service detail for protection.

Jean-Pierre joined the Biden-Harris campaign in May of 2020 and then accepted the position of Chief of Staff to Senator Harris in August. Speaking with NBC News journalist Tim Fitzsimons; “The sun was setting and the lights got much more prominent,” she said, referring to late June 2015, when she watched the White House lit in rainbow colors to mark the historic Supreme Court Obergefell v. Hodges ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. “People had signs and people were crying, and there was just so much joy.”

“I remember thinking how proud I was of this administration, that I had worked for that,” Jean-Pierre, said. “It really brought together, in that one moment, how important LGBTQ rights were and how much that administration fought for our rights.”

She told NBC News at the time, if elected, Biden and Harris would “continue the work that Joe Biden and Obama did” by supporting LGBTQ rights and “continuing to put forth policy that protects the community.”

Jean-Pierre, her partner, CNN correspondent Suzanne Malveaux, and their daughter reside in Washington D.C.

GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis responded to the announcement on Twitter writing:

“Karine Jean-Pierre is a brilliant communicator and person of tremendous intelligence, humor and poise, skills that will serve her and our country well in her new role. There are few jobs more visible or more important to our democracy than to share information with the White House press corps and answer their questions. To have an out queer person of color speak for the President of the United States says everything about Karine’s talent and heart, and recognizes that LGBTQ people can belong, contribute and succeed in every room. Our whole community looks forward to seeing Karine deliver for our nation and represent every LGBTQ person with pride.”

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The White House

White House says U.S. made clear WNBA’s Griner ‘unjustly detained’

The U.S. government “is actively engaged in trying to resolve this case and get Brittney home,” the White House said

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Air Force One arrives at Torrejón Air Base outside Madrid, Spain June 28, 2022 (Screenshot/YouTube VOA)

MADRID, Torrejón Air Base, Spain – White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Tuesday he has spoken in the last few days with the wife of Brittney Griner as part of a larger effort within the Biden administration to secure the release of the Out lesbian basketball player in Russia whom supporters say is being unlawfully detained.

Sullivan made the comments speaking with reporters aboard Air Force One during President Biden’s trip to Europe in response to a question about efforts within the Biden administration to bring Griner home ahead of her expected trial in Russia.

“So first, Brittney Griner is wrongfully detained, unjustly detained, and we have made that clear as an official determination of the U.S. government,” Sullivan said. “Second, the Russian government should release her and allow her to be returned and reunited with her family and come home safe and sound.”

Sullivan added he — as well as Secretary of State Antony Blinken — have spoken with Griner’s wife Cherelle, to “convey our very deep sympathy, to convey that, you know, we just can’t even begin to imagine what the family must be going through, what Brittney — what Brittney must be going through.”

Griner, a professional basketball player for the Phoenix Mercury within the Women’s National Basketball Association, was detained in February by Russian Customs on allegations that cartridges of hashish oil were found in her luggage. Griner had gone to Russia to play with the Russian Premier League during the WNBA off-season.

Sullivan said the U.S. government “is actively engaged in trying to resolve this case and get Brittney home,” but added he’s constrained in what he could say because of confidentiality about the sensitive issue.

“But I will tell you it has the fullest attention of the president and every senior member of his national security and diplomatic team,” Sullivan said. “And we are actively working to find a resolution to this case, and will continue to do so without rest until we get Brittney safely home.”

The Biden administration, Sullivan added, is additionally working to return all unjustly detained Americans and hostages being held overseas,” including detainees in Iran, Afghanistan, Russia, Venezuela, and China.

The Washington Blade has placed a request with the State Department for a readout on Blinken’s role in the Biden administration’s talks with Griner.

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The White House

Biden calls Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade ‘a sad day for court’

“Imagine, woman having to carry a child that’s a consequence of incest, with no option” to terminate the pregnancy, Biden said

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President Biden speaks to Americans after Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade (Screenshot/YouTube)

WASHINGTON – Just after the Supreme Court’s conservative majority moved to overturn the constitutional right to abortion on Friday in a 6-3 ruling, President Joe Biden vowed to protect American women from prosecution for traveling to other states to terminate their pregnancies. 

Thirteen states have made or will soon make abortion illegal, some without exceptions for rape and incest, following today’s ruling. After a draft of that ruling was leaked in May, some state legislatures considered bills to prevent women from circumventing their restrictions on abortion. 

“If any state or local official high or low tries to interfere with a woman exercising her basic right to travel, I will do everything in my power to fight that unamerican attack,” Biden said. 

Delivering his remarks from the Great Cross Hall of the White House, the President looked visibly upset, particularly when discussing the extreme abortion bans in some states that will now be allowed to go into effect. 

“They are so extreme that women can be punished for protecting their health; that some women and girls will be forced to bear their rapists’ child,” Biden said. It was at this point that he appeared to go off-script to share his personal feelings on the ruling and its implications. “It just stuns me,” he said. “Imagine, woman having to carry a child that’s a consequence of incest, with no option” to terminate the pregnancy.

Biden called for those who share his anger and outrage – many who gathered on the steps of the Supreme Court in protest – to remain peaceful. He urged Americans to vote to give Democrats in Congress the majority that will be necessary for them to codify the constitutional right to abortion first established by the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade and overturned today with the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health.

Biden warned of the “dangerous path the court is taking us on,” pointing to Justice Thomas’s comments in the decision that “In future cases, we should reconsider all of this court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell.” 

Should the court revisit the precedents established by those cases, it could mean constitutional protections for the return of laws banning birth control, sodomy and same-sex marriage. 

Biden noted Americans’ constitutional right to abortion was affirmed in multiple decisions by the Supreme Court, endorsed by justices who were appointed by presidents from both parties. 

“It was three justices named by one president, Donald Trump, who were the core of today’s decision to upend the scales of justice and eliminate a fundamental right for women in this country,” Biden said.

President Biden speaks on Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade:

Full transcript:

REMARKS BY PRESIDENT BIDEN
ON THE SUPREME COURT DECISION
TO OVERTURN ROE V. WADE

Today is a — it’s not hyperbole to suggest a very solemn moment.  Today, the Supreme Court of the United States expressly took away a constitutional right from the American people that it had already recognized.

They didn’t limit it.  They simply took it away.  That’s never been done to a right so important to so many Americans.

But they did it.  And it’s a sad day for the Court and for the country.

Fifty years ago, Roe v. Wade was decided and has been the law of the land since then.

This landmark case protected a woman’s right to choose, her right to make intensely personal decisions with her doctor, free from the inter- — from interference of politics.

It reaffirmed basic principles of equality — that women have the power to control their own destiny.  And it reinforced the fundamental right of privacy — the right of each of us to choose how to live our lives.

Now, with Roe gone, let’s be very clear: The health and life of women in this nation are now at risk.

As Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, as Vice President and now as President of the United States, I’ve studied this case carefully.  I’ve overseen more Supreme Court confirmations than anyone today, where this case was always discussed.

I believe Roe v. Wade was the correct decision as a matter of constitutional law, an application of the fundamental right to privacy and liberty in matters of family and personal autonomy.

It was a decision on a complex matter that drew a careful balance between a woman’s right to choose earlier in her pregnancy and the state’s ability to regulate later in her pregnancy.  A decision with broad national consensus that most Americans of faiths and backgrounds found acceptable and that had been the law of the land for most of the lifetime of Americans today.

And it was a constitutional principle upheld by justices appointed by Democrat and Republican Presidents alike. 

Roe v. Wade was a 7 to 2 decision written by a justice appointed by a Republican President, Richard Nixon.  In the five decades that followed Roe v. Wade, justices appointed by Republican Presidents — from Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, George W. [H.W.] Bush — were among the justices who voted to uphold the principles set forth in Roe v. Wade.

It was three justices named by one President — Donald Trump — who were the core of today’s decision to upend the scales of justice and eliminate a fundamental right for women in this country.

Make no mistake: This decision is the culmination of a deliberate effort over decades to upset the balance of our law.  It’s a realization of an extreme ideology and a tragic error by the Supreme Court, in my view.

The Court has done what it has never done before: expressly take away a constitutional right that is so fundamental to so many Americans that had already been recognized.

The Court’s decision to do so will have real and immediate consequences.  State laws banning abortion are automatically taking effect today, jeopardizing the health of millions of women, some without exceptions. 

So extreme that women could be punished for protecting their health.

So extreme that women and girls who are forced to bear their rapist’s child — of the child of consequence. 

It’s a — it just — it just stuns me. 

So extreme that doctors will be criminalized for fulfilling their duty to care.

Imagine having — a young woman having to ch- — carry the child of incest — as a consequence of incest.  No option. 

Too often the case that poor women are going to be hit the hardest.  It’s cruel.

In fact, the Court laid out state laws criminalizing abortion that go back to the 1800s as rationale — the Court literally taking America back 150 years. 

This a sad day for the country, in my view, but it doesn’t mean the fight is over.

Let me be very clear and unambiguous: The only way we can secure a woman’s right to choose and the balance that existed is for Congress to restore the protections of Roe v. Wade as federal law.

No executive action from the President can do that.  And if Congress, as it appears, lacks the vote — votes to do that now, voters need to make their voices heard.

This fall, we must elect more senators and representatives who will codify a woman’s right to choose into federal law once again, elect more state leaders to protect this right at the local level.

We need to restore the protections of Roe as law of the land.  We need to elect officials who will do that.

This fall, Roe is on the ballot.  Personal freedoms are on the ballot.  The right to privacy, liberty, equality, they’re all on the ballot. 

Until then, I will do all in my power to protect a woman’s right in states where they will face the consequences of today’s decision.

While the Court’s decision casts a dark shadow over a large swath of the land, many states in this country still recognize a woman’s right to choose.

So if a woman lives in a state that restricts abortion, the Supreme Court’s decision does not prevent her from traveling from her home state to the state that allows it.  It does not prevent a doctor in that state — in that state from treating her.

As the Attorney General has made clear, women must remain free to travel safely to another state to seek the care they need.  And my administration will defend that bedrock right. 

If any state or local official, high or low, tries to interfere with a woman’s ex- — exercising her basic right to travel, I will do everything in my power to fight that deeply un-American attack.

My administration will also protect a woman’s access to medications that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration — the FDA — like contraception, which is essential for preventative healthcare; mifepristone, which the FDA approved 20 years ago to safely end early pregnancies and is commonly used to treat miscarriages.

Some states are saying that they’ll try to ban or severely restrict access to these medications. 

But extremist governors and state legislators who are looking to block the mail or search a person’s medicine cabinet or control a woman’s actions by tracking data on her apps she uses are wrong and extreme and out of touch with the majority of Americans.

The American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists wrote to me and Vice President Harris stressing that these laws are not based on — are not based on evidence and asking us to act to protect access to care.  They say by limiting access to these medicines, maternal mortality will climb in America.  That’s what they say.

Today, I’m directing the Department of Health and Human Services to take steps to ensure that these critical medications are available to the fullest extent possible and that politicians cannot interfere in the decisions that should be made between a woman and her doctor.  And my administration will remain vigilant as the implications of this decision play out.

I’ve warned about how this decision risks the broader right to privacy for everyone.  That’s because Roe recognized the fundamental right to privacy that has served as the basis for so many more rights that we have come to take — we’ve come to take for granted that are ingrained in the fabric of this country: the right to make the best decisions for your health; the right to use birth control — a married couple — in the privacy of their bedroom, for God’s sake; the right to marry the person you love. 

Now, Justice Thomas said as much today.  He explicitly called to reconsider the right of marriage equality, the right of couples to make their choices on contraception.  This is an extreme and dangerous path the Court is now taking us on. 

Let me close with two points. 

First, I call on everyone, no matter how deeply they care about this decision, to keep all protests peaceful.  Peaceful, peaceful, peaceful.  No intimidation.  Violence is never acceptable.  Threats and intimidation are not speech.  We must stand against violence in any form regardless of your rationale.

Second, I know so many of us are frustrated and disillusioned that the Court has taken something away that’s so fundamental.  I know so many women are now going to face incredibly difficult situations.  I hear you.  I support you.  I stand with you. 

The consequences and the consensus of the American people — core principles of equality, liberty, dignity, and the stability of the rule of law — demand that Roe should not have been overturned.

With this decision, the conservative majority of the Supreme Court shows how extreme it is, how far removed they are from the majority of this country.  They have made the United States an outlier among developed nations in the world.  But this decision must not be the final word.

My administration will use all of its appropriate lawful powers.  But Congress must act.  And with your vote, you can act.  You can have the final word.  This is not over.

Thank you very much.  I’ll have more to say on this in weeks to come.  Thank you.

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The White House

Advocacy groups urge White House to do more to secure Brittney Griner release

HRC, GLAAD among letter signatories

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A participant in the Capital Pride Parade in Washington, D.C., on June 11, 2022, marches with a "Free Brittney Griner" sign. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — Dozens of advocacy groups on Wednesday in a letter they sent to President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris urged them to do more to secure the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner.

The Human Rights Campaign, the Council for Global Equality, Athlete Ally, GLAAD, GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders, Lambda Legal, the National Black Justice Coalition, the National LGBTQ Task Force, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative and All Out Action Fund are among the groups that signed the letter.

Griner’s agent, Lindsay Colas, coordinated the letter and worked with Democratic strategist Karen Finney, among others.

“We, the undersigned civil and human rights organizations, write to express our deep concern for Brittney Griner. We stand together in support of Brittney, now wrongfully detained in Russia for over 124 days,” reads the letter. “An American hero, wife, daughter, sister, friend, teammate, anti-bullying advocate, Olympian, and WNBA superstar, Brittney continues to endure inhumane treatment, deprived of contact with her family.” 

“We join Brittney’s family, friends, colleagues and loved ones in deep appreciation of your Administration’s ongoing efforts to secure her freedom,” it adds. “The U.S. government has acknowledged that Brittney is essentially a political pawn in classifying her as wrongfully detained. While these have been critically important measures, we now urge you to make a deal to get Brittney back home to America immediately and safely.”

Officials at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February detained Brittney Griner — a center for the Phoenix Mercury and two-time Olympic gold medalist who is a lesbian and married to Cherelle Griner — after customs inspectors allegedly found hashish oil in her luggage. The State Department has determined that Russia “wrongfully detained” her.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on May 14 spoke with Cherelle Griner. 

Officials with the State Department’s Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs and Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs on June 13 met with Brittney Griner’s teammates to discuss her detention and efforts to secure her release. A Russian court the following day extended Brittney Griner’s detention through at least July 2.

“We are determined to bring her home along with Paul (Whelan, an American citizen who is serving a 16-year prison sentence in Russia after a court convicted him of spying) and for that matter, any and every American who is being unjustly detained anywhere in the world,” said Blinken on June 15 during a roundtable with this reporter and five other LGBTQ+ and intersex journalists. ” “It’s something that I am personally focused on, and I want to leave it at that because it is obviously an ongoing issue. But just know that this is a matter of intense focus for us.”

Brittney Griner on June 18 was unable to speak with her wife on their fourth anniversary because the phone at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow that she called went unanswered. A State Department spokesperson later admitted a “logistical error” prevented Brittney Griner from speaking with Cherelle Griner.

“This month our nation honors America’s diverse journey towards freedom, equality and justice for all with the observation of the Juneteenth federal holiday, the 50th anniversary of landmark Title IX legislation, and LGBTQ+ Pride. Brittney’s intersectional identity embodies this celebration of America’s strength and diversity,” reads the letter. “As a celebrated world-class athlete, she also demonstrates the uniquely unifying power of sports. Brittney’s ongoing detention threatens the sanctity of sport and the safety of all athletes traveling to compete internationally.” 

“President Biden and Vice President Harris, we urge you to make a deal to bring our teammate, wife, sister, hero, and friend Brittney Griner home swiftly and safely,” it concludes.

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