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White House Press Secretary Psaki Refuses to Confirm Reports She’s Joining MSNBC

April 1, 2022 by Dan McCue
White House Press Secretary Psaki Refuses to Confirm Reports She’s Joining MSNBC
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki addresses the news media. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — White House press secretary Jen Psaki, who brought back the tradition of daily, in-depth briefings with reporters, refused to directly confirm reports in advanced talks to leave the Biden administration and join MSNBC, perhaps as early as next month.

However, when pressed on the ethics of continuing to stand behind the press room podium while negotiating with news outlets, Psaki’s answer seemed to at least imply those conversations had occurred.

The question of Psaki’s rumored pending departure was raised at the end of an unusually rushed press briefing that occurred as President Biden was preparing to leave the White House grounds on Marine One, an event typically covered by the same reporters.

“I have nothing to confirm about my length of public service or plan of service, or anything about consideration about next plans,” Psaki said. “I’m very happy to be standing with all of you here today, after what felt like an endless time in my basement quarantining away from my family.”

Psaki had tested positive for COVID-19 right before the president’s trip to Europe last week. Friday was her first day back in the press room.

“Believe it or not, I missed you a lot,” she told the reporters. “And my focus, every day, continues to be speaking on behalf of the president, answering your questions, as tough as they may be … and I hope that I meet my own bar of treating everybody with fairness and being equitable.”

The move was first reported by Axios, and was later reportedly confirmed by The Hollywood Reporter, though there has yet to be official word from the White House.

Psaki, who has been press secretary since Biden took office last January, has always maintained she didn’t intend to keep the job for the duration of his presidency.

Shortly after her appointment, Psaki told The New York Times that she would remain at the podium for about a year, enough time for other members of the White House press operation to prepare to succeed her.

At the time, many reporters assumed she’d set a hard and fast deadline of leaving this past January, but she later clarified that she never intended to suggest she’d be “walking out the door on day 365.”

At the same time, however, she noted, “I have little kids, and [those] I-don’t-want-to-miss moments are … factors for me.”

Then last May, during an appearance with David Axelrod on his CNN podcast, “The Axe Files,” she reiterated her intention to leave at some point this year.

“I think it’s going to be time for somebody else to have this job, in a year from now or about a year from now,” she told Axelrod at the time.

Those comments now appear prescient.

According to Friday’s published reports, Psaki has been taking meetings with a number of networks in recent months, including CNN, but finally settled on MSNBC.

While the deal has not been finalized, the proposal on the table is said to include her hosting a program on MSNBC’s streaming hub on Peacock and appearing on its other programming as an analyst.

The published reports say Psaki has been working with White House lawyers to ensure her talks with potential employers didn’t violate ethics rules. 

But the idea that the spokeswoman could continue to be the conduit for information between the White House and reporters, appeared to rankle some in the briefing room.

When pressed on the ethics of the situation, Psaki said she’s “always gone over and above the stringent ethical and legal requirements of the Biden administration,” adding, “I take that very seriously.”

“As a standard for every employee of the White House, I have received rigorous ethics counseling, including as it relates to any future employment, and I’ve complied with all ethics requirements, and gone beyond and taken steps to recuse myself from decisions as appropriate.

“So I hope that all of you who I’ve been working with for some time would judge me for my record and how I treat all of you, both in the briefing room and otherwise,” she said. “I try to answer questions from everybody across the board. I know everybody in the back of the room may not always be pleased with me, but I try my best. And I will certainly continue to do that.”

But the questions continued, as did Psaki’s attempts to answer them satisfactorily.

“I have nothing again to announce about any conversations or any future plans,” she repeated. “And at whatever time I leave the White House, I can promise you, the first thing I’m going to do is sleep and spend time with my three- and six-year-old, who are my most important audiences of all.

“But I would say, again, that I have taken ethics and the legal requirements very seriously, in any discussions or considerations about any future employment, just as any White House official would. And I’ve taken steps beyond that to ensure there are no conflicts.

“There are a range of stringent ethical and legal requirements that are imposed on everybody in this administration and many administrations in the past, about any conversations you’re having with future employers,” Psaki continued. “That is true of any industry you’re working in. And I have abided by those and tried to take steps to go beyond that as well.”

Finally, as reporters began to scurry to the South Lawn for the president’s departure, Psaki put the matter to rest, at least for the remainder of the day.

“It is the policy of this White House to ensure that anyone who is having conversations about future employment does so through consultation with the White House Counsel’s Office and by ensuring they abide by any ethics and legal requirements; those are conversations that I have taken very seriously and abided by their every component.”

Because Psaki has been away from the briefing room this week, and Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has also been out with COVID-19, White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield has held most of the briefings this week, receiving high marks from multiple reporters who’ve attended the sessions.

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.

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