When Karine Jean-Pierre stepped behind the lectern to take reporters’ questions in the briefing room Wednesday, she was the first Black woman to speak for the White House in that capacity in three decades.
Jean-Pierre, the principal deputy press secretary for the Biden White House, kicked off the day’s briefing with news about another woman making history: Kristen Clarke.
She announced that the Senate confirmed Clarke on Tuesday as the first woman and first woman of color to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
Just a few questions into the briefing, Jean-Pierre was asked about how she felt about her own historic turn.
“It’s a real honor just to be standing here today,” Jean-Pierre said. “I appreciate the historic nature, I really do. But I believe being behind this podium, being in this room, being in this building, is not about one person. It’s about what we do on behalf of the American people.”
Jean-Pierre is a longtime Democratic political hand who was the top public affairs staffer for the progressive group MoveOn.org before she joined Biden’s presidential campaign.
She also made history as the first openly gay woman in her role.
It has been a long time since the last Black woman in Jean-Pierre’s position made her debut in the briefing room. It was 1991, and the woman was Judy Smith.
Hairstyles have changed. The internet is much faster, and you can get it on smartphones, which didn’t even exist then.
To put it in perspective, Smith was deputy press secretary for then-President George H.W. Bush — the first Bush president.
Enough time passed that Smith was the inspiration for the character of Olivia Pope on ABC’s hit show Scandal, which ran for seven seasons and ended in 2018.
And in all that time, there has not been another Black woman to take the lectern as White House spokeswoman — until now.