By Terrance Turner
May 13, 2022
Today was Jen Psaki’s last day as White House Press Secretary. Psaki leaves the White House podium after conducting 224 press briefings — more than any of the previous administration’s press secretaries combined. In an emotional farewell, Psaki thanked the press, her staff, and President Joe Biden along with First Lady Jill Biden.
‘You know, this is my last briefing,’ she said, ‘and I wanted to start with a series of thank-yous. I promised myself I wasn’t gonna get emotional,’ she said, getting choked up. ‘I want to say thank you to the President and First Lady. They entrusted me in serving in this role for the past 15 months, and I’ve talked about this a little bit before, but during my first conversation with them — which was in November of 2020, after the election — I was very nervous when I went to see them in Delaware. And really what he talked about for the majority of our conversation was the importance of returning integrity, respect, and civility to the white house, the small sliver of my job here in engaging with all of you.
“That doesn’t not mean that we haven’t let our Irish side show — mine and the President’s as well, from time to time,” Psaki said. “I recognize that. But on my best days, and as I look back, I hope I followed the example of integrity and grace that [the Bidens] have set for all of us, and do set for all of us every day, and I’m incredibly grateful to them.”
”Thank you to the press team. You all know a lot of them. Many of them are here; some of them are not here because they are taking much-needed days off. It has nothing to do with me personally, I promise. But you all know a lot of them. For those who don’t know them, they are incredibly tough, smart, hardworking and deeply, deeply good human beings. Deeply good public servants,’ she said, choking up again.
”People always ask me, and I’m sure you guys get asked this too, about whether Washington is rotten,” she said to the reporters. “You know, whether everybody is corrupt here and [if] nothing good happens, and we all just argue with each other. And I, having done this job, believe the absolute opposite is true, because I have worked with and engaged with all of these incredible people across the administration and this amazing team, many of whom are here that I get to work with every day. As I said about Karine [Jean-Pierre] last week, these people are already the stars of the team, but they’re gonna be shining stars in the future and I’ll miss them a lot.’
President Joe Biden has named Karine Jean-Pierre as the next White House press secretary. She is the first Black woman and first out gay person ever to serve in that role. “Karine not only brings the experience, talent, and integrity needed for this difficult job, but she will continue to lead the way in communicating about the work of the Biden-Harris administration on behalf of the American people,” Biden said in a statement.
When asked what advice she has for Jean-Pierre, Psaki gave three points of advice to her successor. Psaki said she should use every opportunity to speak with Biden as the main point of their job is to “project, convey the positions, the policy, the views of the president of the United States.”
“Every opportunity you have to speak with him, to engage with him, to ask him questions — oftentimes, I will tell you, they are questions that you will need in the briefing room or otherwise — it will make you better equipped and even more effective because our job is to speak on his behalf,” Psaki said, according to USA Today. Psaki added that Jean-Pierre should “spend time digging, pushing and questioning the policy teams.” She also warned that press briefings could get a little repetitive.
Clearly, Psaki was beloved within her workplace. Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates told PEOPLE magazine that Psaki “goes an extra 100 miles for her people” and recounted how, when he started out as a 19-year-old intern for the Obama campaign and was living in Chicago with no furniture, she gave him her own air mattress to sleep on.
This past year, after Psaki delegated Bates to take the lead on press for the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, he had to miss the White House event celebrating her confirmation to the Supreme Court because he was home isolating with COVID. “Unexpectedly, there was a knock at our door,” he said. “Jen remembered that my fiancé’s and my favorite kind of food is Italian, and she’d sent a delivery person with pasta and meat sauce.”
Assistant Press Secretary Vedant Patel described Psaki as “the walking embodiment of a great boss” — and then some, saying that “she was also a stellar human being that took time to connect with the team on things outside of the workplace too — like comparing notes about the best ice cream place in town, and where the best ethnic food in Arlington was, what to watch on TV.” Psaki was also adamant that her team wasn’t “sacrificing on the serious parts of our personal lives,” as Patel told PEOPLE.
“I can remember a couple of times where I was ‘scolded’ for being on team calls and e-mails when I was supposed to be on vacation with my wife,” he said. “She pushed us to be the best versions of ourselves – the best spokespersons on behalf of The White House, but also the best people we could be too.”
“You have debated me. And at times we have disagreed. That is democracy in action. That is it working,” she said. “Without accountability, without debate, government is not as strong. And you all play an incredibly pivotal role, thank you for what you do. Thank you for making me better. And most importantly, thank you for the work every day you do to make this country stronger.”