Hager is set to replace Kathie Lee Gifford, who, after more than a decade, will be stepping down in April from her role hosting the show’s fourth hour.
“Here at NBC and around the country, Jenna is loved,” Kotb said, announcing the news Tuesday. “Kath is a legend, and I still can’t believe even sitting here today looking at you, Kath, that I had the great privilege of sitting next to you for 11 years.”
Hager has been filling in routinely on the show for both hosts and called the moment “humbling” and unbelievable. Her father, former President George W. Bush, also offered her a special message, she said.
“My dad just wrote me three words, which made me weep,” Hager recalled. “He said, ‘Very proud dad.’”
Offering her praise to Gifford, Hager pointed to the departing host as “such a role model and so generous with your time.”
“You are beloved here in so many ways,” she said, adding that if she had half of Gifford’s success, “my life will be a very happy one.”
In a tweet later that day, Gifford gave her replacement a shoutout, writing, “So thrilled for my sweet friend” who “will be a beautiful addition to this show that I have grown to love so much.”
Gifford announced her exit last December, noting that while she initially intended to spend only a year on the program, she “fell in love” with Kotb and decided to stay.