Posted on April 28, 2024

Inside the Failed White House Coup to Oust Biden Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre

Steven Nelson, New York Post, April 26, 2024

Top aides to President Biden secretly hatched a plan this past fall to replace White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre by recruiting outside allies to nudge her out the door, The Post has learned.

Jean-Pierre, who made history in May 2022 by becoming the first black and first openly gay person to hold the position, had developed the exasperating habit of reading canned answers directly from a binder to reporters at her regular briefings — offering what her superiors viewed as a less-than-compelling pitch for the 81-year-old Biden as he readied his re-election campaign.

De facto White House communications chief Anita Dunn, 66, the wife of Biden personal attorney Bob Bauer, told colleagues she had decided to call in prominent Democrats to explain to Jean-Pierre, 49, that the time was ripe to move on, sources told The Post.

“There were a number of people she asked to engage Karine,” said one source who heard of the strategy directly from Dunn, whose role as senior adviser has been filled during the past three presidencies by Jared Kushner (Donald Trump), Valerie Jarrett (Barack Obama) and Karl Rove (George W. Bush).

The source also told The Post that Dunn had claimed White House chief of staff Jeff Zients knew about and supported the cloak-and-dagger scheme to push Jean-Pierre out of the West Wing.

“There was an effort to have some outside folks who Karine knows and trusts talk to her about why leaving last fall would have made a lot of sense for her and her career,” the source said, calling it an “effort to encourage her to move along.”

Jean-Pierre, the person added, “had been in the job for a year and a half at that point, which is a pretty standard tenure for a press secretary in what is admittedly a very demanding job [and] Jeff and Anita [tried] to have folks that she would listen to and trust talk to her about why it might be wise to do that.”

Jean-Pierre’s predecessor, Jen Psaki, was press secretary for one week shy of 16 months before leaving to take a job as a host and analyst at MSNBC.

A second source told The Post that “Jeff and Anita were trying to find Karine a graceful exit” because of the ugly optics of removing her against her will.

“There’s a huge diversity issue and they’re afraid of what folks are going to say,” added this source, who said they learned of the effort from multiple people briefed by Dunn and confirmed at least one person from outside the administration did speak with Jean-Pierre.

The revelation of Dunn’s plan is likely to make for awkward workplace dynamics, the first source said, but is unlikely to result in Jean-Pierre’s departure.

“She has been pretty consistent in telling people from the minute she got the job that she was going to stay through the election,” they said.

“I think Karine has decided to stay come hell or high water and that’s that.”

While Jean-Pierre isn’t going anywhere, the issues that brought about Dunn’s failed machinations remain — with both sources saying the press secretary is too reliant on notes to provide the pushback and quick-thinking repartee needed to effectively champion Biden’s cause.

“Karine doesn’t have an understanding of the issues and she reads the book [binder] word-for-word,” said the second source, adding that the situation is made worse by the fact that “she thinks she’s doing an amazing job.”

“She doesn’t have a grasp of the issues and doesn’t spend the time to learn,” this person said.

“These issues are not second nature to people. Israel and Gaza is a perfect example. It’s very nuanced. Jen would have calls with people to feel well-versed enough to go to the briefing.”

“There’s an enormous amount of work that goes into getting ready,” the first source said, “and consistently she does not put in that level of work.”

In response, White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates told The Post: “Not only are these claims wildly false, but the reality is the polar opposite. Karine was never approached by anyone with such a message. She spends four hours preparing every day. And neither Jeff nor Anita did any such thing; both have been unflinchingly supportive of her.”

Bates added Friday morning: “Every press secretary uses the binder. Why is she being singled out?”

In December, not long after word of Dunn’s plan circulated in the White House, Jean-Pierre received and rejected an unsolicited offer to become president of EMILYs List, a major Democratic group that raises money for female candidates who support expanded abortion rights.

When NBC News reported on the offer in February, the outlet said Jean-Pierre had emphatically told the group that she was “committed to the president” and “I’m not going anywhere.”