Psaki also said she would hold daily press conferences – a change from the previous government that would often take weeks without addressing reporters. Former press secretary Stephanie Grisham didn’t have a single briefing during her tenure. Trump often chose to make important policy and staff announcements from his personal Twitter account. Psaki’s Wednesday appearance was the first White House press conference since December 15.
For the White House press corps and news media in general, which had besieged Trump for four years and denigrated it as “false news”, Psaki’s initial responses from the podium set a new standard by which the White House must now live. But while Psaki’s remarks were addressed to reporters in the briefing room, her audience also went to the American people to reiterate that the Biden administration was turning a page from the recent past of covering up and outright lies.
Psaki’s debut appearance was diametrically opposed to the Trump presidency’s first press conference, at which then-press secretary Sean Spicer insisted that Trump’s inaugural crowd was the largest in U.S. history – a claim that was quickly proven wrong with aerial photographs of the event .
But not everything was back to pre-Trump times on Wednesday. The meeting room was well below capacity to adhere to Covid’s social distancing rules, and Psaki stepped on the lectern wearing an N-95 mask – a preventive measure that ex-press secretary Kayleigh McEnany often declined. (Psaki took off her mask when she began to speak.)
Psaki too outlined a number of policy goals and went through executive orders that Biden had signed during his first day in office. The orders overturned some of the Trump administration’s signature actions, including raised fortifications on the southern border and a travel ban from several Muslim-majority countries. They also issued a mask mandate in federal spaces to combat the coronavirus pandemic, and returned the United States to the Paris Climate Agreement.
Psaki asked questions about coronavirus relief and said Biden was “no stranger to the billing process”. He reiterated the president’s pledge to work across the aisle to pass a comprehensive relief relief law.
“We are at the beginning of the process,” said Psaki. “It rarely looks exactly like the package originally proposed.”
She also said that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s foremost infectious disease expert and one of the most public faces of the Trump White House’s coronavirus efforts, would attend a virtual meeting with the World Health Organization. The move is a reversal of Trump’s plans to withdraw the US from global health bureau amid the pandemic.
Wednesday’s briefing was not Psaki’s first visit to the White House communications store. Prior to her current position, Psaki worked in various positions for President Barack Obama’s public relations and was State Department spokesperson at the end of Obama’s presidency.
Christopher Cadelago contributed to this report.