Will the real White House spokesperson please stand up?
Biden press officer Karine Jean-Pierre and National Security Council spokesman John Kirby reportedly disagree behind the scenes over the division of responsibilities during their regular press briefings.
Kirby, a former Pentagon and State Department spokesperson, has been making increasingly frequent appearances at the podium since the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel on Oct. 7 — and is a favorite of the president, who often asks Kirby to brief him personally: according to Axios.
Despite his prominence as the administration’s de facto foreign policy spokesperson, Kirby’s appearances in the briefing room are tightly controlled by Jean-Pierre – who selects which reporters can ask Kirby questions.
The press secretary notably does no such thing when Kirby’s nominal boss, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, attends the briefings – leading Kirby to express his frustration with the situation.
“This is not my briefing room,” Kirby, 60, a retired Navy rear admiral, recently grumbled to someone who asked him how he was enjoying his White House post, sources said. at the Post.
The embarrassment dates back to Jen Psaki’s departure from her post as White House press secretary in May 2022, two weeks before Kirby’s arrival from the Pentagon.
President Biden formally offered Jean-Pierre the role of Psaki’s successor, but muddied the waters by adding that she would work with Kirby, Jean-Pierre told colleagues at the time, according to Axios.
Since then, some black members of the administration have suggested to the media that this arrangement was insulting to Jean-Pierre because it implied that the first-ever African-American press secretary needed supervision.
Meanwhile, Kirby has reportedly told people he would like to be a press secretary one day, although a person familiar with the matter told The Post on Friday that he has never expressed that ambition.
Jean-Pierre, for her part, has said she intends to stay in office at least until this year’s election and claims Biden asked her not to leave.
In a sign of Kirby’s rising star, he began accompanying the president aboard Air Force One on domestic trips as well as international visits, reportedly at the request of senior White House adviser Anita Dunn.
The two have only been confronted about the arrangement once, in September 2022, when Kirby firmly swept questions from the Today News Africa journalist and casual briefing room gadfly Simon Ateba wondered if he was a “second press officer” who actually did the same work as Jean-Pierre.
“If anyone has in mind the idea that (I) get from Karine or her work, it is really regrettable. And I’m really sorry that that’s an impression that anyone could have,” Kirby said at the time.
“I can come here from time to time to talk to you about national security issues. This is my wallet. This is where I am limited. This is where I will stay,” he added, specifying that his appearances in the briefing room were preceded by invitations and approval from Jean-Pierre.
Since then, Ateba has not been invited to ask questions.
Since the start of the war in the Middle East, Kirby has been alongside Jean-Pierre at more than 30 press briefings, with the press secretary making only one solo appearance during that time. .
To complicate matters, Jean-Pierre has created unnecessary headaches at the White House.
In June, the Office of Special Counsel determined Jean-Pierre’s repeated use of the term “mega MAGA Republicans” in the run-up to the 2022 midterm elections was a violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activities that could influence an election.
However, the agency declined to take further action, saying only that White House lawyers disagreed that its remarks were prohibited by law.
Jean-Pierre too attracted strong criticism during a press briefing on October 23, when she responded to a question about rising anti-Semitism in the United States, saying the White House had seen “no credible threat” against the Jewish community before to talk about hate crimes against Muslims and Arab Americans. .
Jean-Pierre later said Fox News Digital that she had misheard the question before unequivocally condemning “the disgusting increase in anti-Semitic rhetoric, conspiracy theories, and hate crimes in our nation,” which she called a “growing threat.”
A White House official who works closely with Jean-Pierre and Kirby told the Post he saw no signs of a rift between the two.
“As someone who spends more time ‘behind closed doors’ with the two of them than with any other person, I do not recognize this description of their relationship at all,” the official said. “The truth is the opposite: They talk all the time and have a collegial, collaborative relationship.”