Karine Jean-Pierre and John Kirby Share an Uncomfortable White House Spotlight

The White House heralded Karine Jean-Pierre as a trailblazing press secretary. But it has increasingly relied on John Kirby, a longtime Washington hand, to spread its message.

On the day she was named the first Black and first openly gay White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre said she hoped her appointment might inspire other people who, like her, never imagined occupying the pre-eminent role in political communications.

“I think this is important for them to see this,” she said in May 2022.

Americans are seeing less of her lately.

Since the Hamas terrorist attack on Oct. 7, Ms. Jean-Pierre has yielded the spotlight to a lower-ranking official, John F. Kirby. For months, Mr. Kirby has regularly co-hosted her daily briefings, often fielding more questions from journalists than she does, and appeared more frequently on major political news programs as the administration’s spokesperson.

Mr. Kirby, 60, a retired Navy admiral who previously worked at the Pentagon and the State Department, is better versed in foreign affairs at a time of war in Ukraine and the Middle East. He evinces a clarity and comfort at the lectern that can sometimes elude Ms. Jean-Pierre, 49, a more rote public speaker with less experience tussling with an adversarial press.

The White House attributes Mr. Kirby’s larger role to the flurry of international news and says he will brief less often once the Middle East crisis ebbs. But the perception in Washington that President Biden has allowed Mr. Kirby, who is white, to upstage a Black woman as the face of his White House has turned their double act into a third-rail subject.

“Can’t think of many topics I’d like to opine on less,” said one Biden supporter and Democratic strategist, who deemed the subject too politically and culturally sensitive to discuss with their name attached.

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