On Wednesday, just hours after Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, White House Press Decretary Jen Psaki took to the podium in the James S. Brady Briefing Room in the West Wing and said she and the president wanted to bring “truth and transparency back to the briefing room.”
In the first press briefing of President Biden’s administration, Psaki said to the assembled reporters, “There will be times when we see things differently in this room … that’s OK. That’s part of our democracy and rebuilding trust with the American people will be central to our focus in the press office and in the White House every single day.”
During the briefing, Psaki highlighted Biden’s 15 first executive actions in his first day as president and the immigration bill he has sent to Congress. When asked how she saw her primary goal in the press secretary role, Psaki highlighted her respect for the press: “I will just state because you gave me the opportunity, I have a deep respect for a role of deep and independent press in our democracy,” she said. She added that at times she and the press will disagree, “but we have a common goal, which is sharing accurate information with the American people.”
The White House press secretary taking questions regularly from the press did not used to be news, but throughout President Donald Trump’s four years in office, it became an infrequent occurrence. When a briefing did happen, it was often a derisive affair, with tough questions asked of President Trump’s tweets by the press, and accusations of bias leveled by the press secretary at the podium.
In fact, the very first White House briefing of the Trump era saw then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer (now a host on Trump-friendly Newsmax) criticize tweets from the White House press corps and (infamously) declare that Trump’s inauguration had “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.”
Kayleigh McEnany, Trump’s last press secretary, held only a handful of briefings in his final year in office, most recently a brief statement (with no questions) on Jan. 7 after pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol. McEnany’s predecessor, Stephanie Grisham, held the role for 281 days but did not hold a single on-camera press briefing.
It was under press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, however, that the White House press briefing slowly disappeared. Sanders was the longest-serving press secretary of Trump’s term, departing the White House in June 2019. She joined Fox News as a contributor in August of that year.
Now, the Biden White House, under Press Secretary Psaki and Communications Director Kate Bedingfield, appears poised to bring back the regular press briefing, returning to yet another norm that the Trump White House had pushed aside.
“Communicating directly and truthfully to the American people is one of the most important duties of a president, and this team will be entrusted with the tremendous responsibility of connecting the American people to the White House,” Biden said in a statement announcing the hiring of the White House communications staff.
At the end of Wednesday’s briefing, Psaki took questions from an array of reporters — from the Associated Press, NBC, ABC and Fox News, among other outlets — about her role, Biden’s first calls with foreign leaders, former President Trump’s letter to Biden, and what it was like for Biden to step back into the Oval Office, which Psaki said was like “coming home” for the former vice president.
“Thank you everyone, let’s do this again tomorrow,” Psaki said to close out the briefing.