White House press secretary Jen Psaki brushed dust off the podium in the briefing room on Wednesday evening, holding the first press conference of the Biden era just hours after he was inaugurated as the 46th president.
“When the president asked me to serve in this role, we talked about the importance of bringing truth and transparency back to the briefing room,” Psaki said of President Joe Biden. “There will be times where 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.”
The press briefing, a normal feature of almost every modern administration, nonetheless represented a firm break with the lack of transparency under former President Donald Trump. Trump and his press secretaries regularly battled and attacked the media from the briefing room, if they appeared at all. The administration often went months without any senior officials appearing behind the podium. Former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany’s final briefing — shortly after the deadly insurrection at the Capitol — lasted only a minute before she left without answering questions.
Psaki pledged that her tenure would be different. She said she would hold regularly briefings every weekday and that the Biden administration would ensure health officials delivered addresses to the media and the American public on a frequent basis.
“[I recognize] the power of this podium and the power of truth and the importance of truth and setting the example of engagement and transparency,” Psaki said, later addressing the spread of misinformation under Trump and how the Biden administration would work to combat it.
“I think there are a number of ways to combat misinformation; one of them is accurate information and truth and data and sharing information even when it is hard to hear,” she said.
Biden quickly got to work on Wednesday afternoon, signing a bevy of executive orders to reverse many Trump-era policies and enable the U.S. to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord and the World Health Organization. The president also instituted a mask mandate on federal property, rescinded the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline and began instituting plans to protect undocumented immigrants and to allow people from banned Muslim-majority nations to enter the U.S. again.
“We’re not wasting any time,” Psaki said.
Every senior communications role in the Biden administration will be held by a woman, the first time all of those positions will be filled by female officials. The president has pledged to make his Cabinet and leadership team reflective of America and has already moved to fill senior positions with barrier-breaking appointees.
Vice President Kamala Harris has already broken barriers in her own right. She is the first female vice president and the first Black and the Asian American vice president.
Psaki said that Biden’s inauguration speech on Wednesday, which did not mention Trump, was meant to look forward and leave the past behind.
“The intention was to make the speech not about any individual … but make it about the American people and the moment we’re facing in history,” Psaki said. “To make it more about the strength of the American people as they come together. As you saw in his speech it was forward-looking, it was not meant to look to the past.”
“Thank you everyone,” she closed, “Let’s do this again tomorrow.”