Bully Pulpit No More: Jen Psaki’s Turn at the Lectern

Mr. Spicer often complains that White House correspondents who aggressively questioned the Trump administration now give Mr. Biden a free pass. (The correspondents disagree.) He also expressed displeasure over what he perceived to be a grievous insult on Ms. Psaki’s part. Speaking about why Trump loyalists were asked to resign from the board of the United States Military Academy, she told reporters, “I will let others evaluate whether they think Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer and others were qualified.”

“Jen chose to stand and question my qualifications and services to this country. Once she did that, the gloves were off,” Mr. Spicer said. (In 2017, when Mr. Spicer was roundly criticized for referring to Nazi death camps as “Holocaust centers,” Ms. Psaki was more magnanimous. “It’s a really tough job, everybody screws up,” she said on CNN at the time.)

Mr. Biden has urged Ms. Psaki to eschew acronyms and other governmental jargon, once chastising her for using the corporate term “R & D” — research and development — in a response. Unlike Mr. Trump, Mr. Biden does not usually watch briefings in real time, but he is known to catch snippets on cable news during the day when he has gaps in his schedule.

She has also conceded some missteps, like an early outing in which she seemed to lightly mock the Space Force, the new military branch created by President Trump. She now keeps a Space Force pin at her desk as a reminder of the impact of her words. (Absent from her office is the traditional flak jacket passed down cheekily among White House press secretaries; it apparently went missing in January.)

Mr. Biden is no one’s idea of a careful public speaker. (As Mr. Axelrod once put it, “He is not a precision instrument.”) Ms. Psaki’s primary task is to interpret and in some cases clean up his comments for the record, a responsibility that has been even tougher in recent weeks.

Rahm Emanuel, who worked with Ms. Psaki on Democratic campaigns and recommended her to the Obama team, said he texted Ronald Klain, Mr. Biden’s chief of staff, on the day her appointment was announced. “I said you’re going to count your blessings, in the days to come, that you made this decision,” he said. “You’re not going to have to worry about what goes on in that room.”

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