On the first anniversary of the Biden-Harris administration, the White House teemed with dignitaries, guests and what appeared to be a larger press corps.
And while that and the enormous Secret Service presence blocking off about a five-block radius on and around Pennsylvania Avenue constituted the norm, something different, even special, seemed to characterize the 46th President and his staff and cabinet.
“Representation matters. We’ve seen that from the first day of this administration when the president signed an executive order to deal with racial inequity and to make sure we saw diversity and inclusion across the board in the federal government,” said White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
With a light-up-the-room smile and oozing with confidence, Jean-Pierre exudes why it won’t be long before the current administration earns the respect of the world.
“We’re living in a polarized country right now and the one thing that the president talked about when he was running was making sure he was the president for all,” Jean-Pierre said.
She struck a confident tone despite strong GOP opposition to the administration’s policies and a media that relentlessly highlights any shortcomings.
“It will take more than a year to get to the other side of that so that it’s not so polarizing and so we can actually get our message through to the American people,” said Jean-Pierre who understands adversity but also embraces perseverance.
At 44, Jean-Pierre has a unique window into politics and movements and represents one who never had anything handed to her.
Facing a hard-knock life in their native Haiti, her parents welcomed their new child into the world in Martinique, immigrating to the U.S. during her childhood. Her father began working as a New York City cab driver, something he still does, albeit on a part-time basis. Her mother began has long worked as a home healthcare aide.
“My parents came here looking for a better life,” Jean-Pierre said. “They heard of the opportunities here but it was a catch-22 because you came here for opportunities and you also come here as a Black family. It was hard for them and like so many families across this country, they lived live paycheck to paycheck.”
Still, Jean-Pierre acknowledged her parents’ pride in her accomplishments including her making history last year as just the second Black woman to take the podium and lead a White House press briefing.
“It was truly an honor and one of the things we all recognize and say is to not to forget the shoulders that we stand on. So I certainly remember Judy Smith, [the first Black woman to lead a White House briefing],” Jean-Pierre said. “I wouldn’t be in this position but President Biden made that decision to put me in this administration. To do the work that we are doing and knowing that I have so many folks out there who are proud of me makes me proud.”
In many ways, her parents feel they’ve reached their dreams through her, Jean-Pierre offered.
“They came from an impoverished country but left to get a better life for their kids,” she said. “For them, they feel they have reached their dreams because of my successes. But without them, I wouldn’t be where I am. They told me I could be whatever I wanted to be and do whatever I wanted to do.”
While her parents encouraged Jean-Pierre to become a doctor or lawyer, she worked in politics in New York, served in the Obama administration and served as a spokesperson for MoveOn, the advocacy group and political action group.
She also taught campaign management at Columbia University’s graduate-level for nearly six years.
“I’ve seen it all,” she said. “Even when I was teaching, my students would ask how I got to work at the White House. I tell them to follow your passion, what you believe in and it will all come together if you do. So keep following and believing your heart and what excites you every morning and what you believe is making change. It will come.”
Jean-Pierre also pointed to the victories achieved by the Biden-Harris administration which include improving foreign relations including working with Haiti and nations in Africa. She said the bipartisan infrastructure bill also counts as a significant win for the administration.
“It became law after the president brought the two sides of the aisle together and did something that Congress talked about and past presidents talked about but were not able to get done,” she said. “That bill not only fixes roads and bridges but makes broadband accessible and affordable for all Americans. she said.
She said Biden’s Build Back Better bill would continue to invest in America including more investments for historically Black colleges and universities. Meanwhile, she points to the American Rescue Plan which helped put money in the pockets of the poor and working-class, significantly reduced child poverty and has led to more than 75 million Americans become vaccinated against COVID-19.
Jean-Pierre vowed that President Biden and Vice President Harris will continue to battle for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and Voting Rights, adding that she couldn’t be more pleased with the state of the administration.
“The single-most thing that inspires me about the administration, one of the things I can say about this president and vice president, is decency,” Jean-Pierre decided. “They respect people and understand what people are going through and they truly want to deliver. They saw Black and Brown communities were always left behind and when we talk about our economic policy, we bring everyone in, and that makes me proud.”