Karine Jean-Pierre has never been good at her job, but that was generally OK when the press room was for the most part a cheering section–except for an outlier here or there.
One reporter even profusely apologized on behalf of the press after an unruly reporter began shouting questions last March.
There was a brief hiccup when questions were a little tougher during the still-unresolved classified documents matter with President Joe Biden, but she has been treated with mostly softballs.
That’s starting to change, and she is not holding up so well when the going gets tough.
Karine Jean-Pierre Has a Tough Summer
At a press briefing back in July, Biden’s press secretary berated a reporter in response to a question about cocaine discovered at the White House, casting aspersions on the entire press.
The previous day, White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates ducked a question about whether the substance belonged to Hunter Biden. I can’t imagine why anyone would ask such a thing.
So, when a reporter asked, “Can you just say once and for all whether or not the cocaine belonged to the Biden family?” Jean-Pierre let it rip.
“We’ve answered this question, litigated this question for the last two days, exhaustively,” Jean-Pierre replied. “There has been some irresponsible reporting about the family, and so I’ve got to call that out here. And I have been very clear. I was clear two days ago when talking about this over and over again as I was being asked the question.”
We can only imagine that if Kayleigh Mcenany of Sean Spicer attacked the press this way during the Trump years, CNN and the Washington Post would be warning of democracy’s final stand.
In this case, such dire warnings didn’t exist, nor should they have then or now.
But the free ride is over for both the Biden administration and his press secretary.
It’s been abundantly clear to even occasional viewers of the press briefing that Karine Jean-Pierre is in over her head, clearly observable compared to her predecessor Jen Psaki—who played the media like a violin. Much of that is experience. Psaki was as spokesperson for the State Department. KJP was tossed in the deep end unprepared.
Oh the Problems
Obviously, the White House knows she’s in over her head given the frequency that national security spokesman John Kirby ends up doing much of the briefings and often carrying the briefings on questions unrelated to national security.
Days earlier, also back in the summer, the briefing room could have used a laugh track, when moments after fielding questions on cocaine, she said that President Biden “is proud to have restored the rule of law in his administration.”
Cocaine aside, she made this proclamation about a week after taking questions about Internal Revenue Service whistleblowers alleging political interference into the Hunter Biden investigation, at the same time that Congress is probing an allegation into whether the president–while serving as vice president–took a bribe.
As with anything, context is important regarding her “rule of law” answer. A reporter noted that former President Donald Trump used the White House South Lawn for his 2020 re-election campaign, and asked if President Biden had any “red lines” he wouldn’t cross in terms of campaigning at the White House.
“The president is proud to have restored the rule of law in his administration,” she said in response. “And I can tell you here and I can tell you now that he will not exploit his office with conventions at the White House, like it was done in the last administration. He will not do that on the South Lawn, in his administration. I can assure you that will not happen in this administration.”
Except, even in context that’s not a great answer.
Karine Jean-Pierre is often criticized for ducking questions by citing the Hatch Act, a federal law that prohibits federal employees from engaging in political work on federal time or using federal resources.
In June, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel determined she violated the Hatch Act when at the Nov. 2, 2022 briefing ahead of the midterms she delivered what were essential Democratic National Committee talking points.
“Unfortunately, we have seen mega MAGA Republican officials who don’t believe in the rule of law,” Jean-Pierre said ahead of the election. “They refuse to accept the results of free and fair elections, and they fan the flames of political violence through what they praise and what they refuse to condemn.”
Through all of this, KJP has cast herself in rather glowing light for her intersectionality.
“This is a historic administration. I’m a historic figure, and I certainly walk in history every day,” she said in an interview in June.
It’s a little rare that a spokesperson for a politician or policymaker describes him or herself as “historic.” Given how she handles the job, she might well be historic–though not in the way she thinks.
Barbara Joanna Lucas is a writer and researcher in Northern Virginia. She has been a healthcare professional, political blogger, is a proud dog mom, and news junkie.