Politics

No meltdowns: Jen Psaki’s first briefing as Biden press secretary was a breath of recent air

The first press briefing by Biden administration press secretary Jen Psaki highlighted how much changed overnight in the White House.

There were no angry outbursts. No insults. No conspiracy theories pushed from the briefing room lectern. Just civil, if largely unmemorable, exchanges with reporters.

That Psaki didn’t break a lot of policy news is understandable, given that she just started at her job hours earlier. What was significant, however, is the approach she took toward reporters.

“I have deep respect for the role of a free and independent press in our democracy, and for the role all of you play,” Psaki, who was a State Department spokesperson in the Obama years, said in response to the first question she fielded. “As I noted earlier, there will be moments when we disagree, and there will certainly be days where we disagree for extensive parts of the briefing even, perhaps. But we have a common goal, which is sharing accurate information with the American people.”

Psaki’s first briefing stood in the starkest possible contrast with the first one held under President Donald Trump in January 2017.

That memorable event, held the day after Trump’s inauguration, was a surreal affair in which press secretary Sean Spicer angrily denounced reporters for accurately covering the relative smallness of Trump’s inaugural crowd size.

Spicer’s outburst set the tone for the next four years, during which White House briefings were more like professional wrestling events than they were good-faith efforts to inform the American public. It often felt like their goal was to put on a spectacle where White House officials asserted dominance over reporters.

Psaki seems poised to make the briefings more like they were in the Obama years, when, for better or worse, the general public rarely took notice.

While Psaki took pains to avoid rebuking Trump or any of the four press secretaries who worked for him, she did allude to the sad state of press relations during those years by promising to bring “truth and transparency back to the briefing room.” Most of the questions she fielded on Wednesday came from reporters who asked her about Biden’s plans or what her approach to being press secretary would be, but she did at one point respond artfully to a question from a Fox News reporter who asked her a leading question about whether President Joe Biden should discourage the Senate from holding a second impeachment trial for Trump now that he’s out of office.

“The Senate can also multitask,” she said, arguing that senators could hold a trial while still addressing the pressing problems facing the American people.

None of this is to deify Psaki, who, after all, worked for an Obama administration that had poor relationships with many members of the press corps. Not all of her press briefings will be the sunshine and rainbows affairs that Wednesday’s was. But for a night, at least, the uneventfulness of a White House press secretary’s interactions with reporters felt like something to celebrate.

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