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How Biden's White House media operation will differ from Trump's

Brittany Shepherd and Hunter Walker
·Reporters
·5-min read

WASHINGTON — The White House Press Office, one of the most visible parts of any presidential administration, is going to look very different under Joe Biden.

President Trump virtually eliminated the daily White House press briefing during the final years of his term. Biden plans to bring it back, sources close to the president-elect told Yahoo News. He is also evaluating a diverse slate of candidates for the role of press secretary, who traditionally leads the briefings and serves as the public face of the West Wing.

“You can expect a return to daily briefings and a commitment to transparency very unlike what you saw from the Trump White House,” a Biden transition source told Yahoo News.

Those priorities will be reflected in Biden’s government reform plan, the source said, which was released during the campaign and includes measures designed to increase transparency for political donations and sweeping ethics reforms for the Department of Justice and other federal agencies. And there will be one other major change to day-to-day White House operations: the restoration of visitor logs.

Kamala Harris and Joe Biden
Kamala Harris and Joe Biden celebrate their election victory in Wilmington, Del., on Nov. 7. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Those records of the people who have meetings with the president and staff in the West Wing were first made public by President Barack Obama in 2009, his first year in office. Biden, who served as Obama’s vice president for eight years, will resume that practice.

Obama’s decision to make the visitor logs public earned praise from transparency watchdog groups, though there was some criticism of the limitations of the policy and some efforts by Obama administration officials to keep some meetings secret. The Trump administration reversed that policy and declined to release visitor logs. Biden’s government reform plan includes a promise to “return to the Obama-Biden Administration practice of disclosing White House visitor lists.”

According to the transition source, Biden plans to announce more policies aimed at improving transparency soon.

“I expect we will have additional announcements on transparency-related policies in the months ahead as well,” the source said.

For now, Biden is huddled with top advisers, mulling key staffing decisions — including for his press shop.

While no final calls have been made, Biden is considering a pair of Black women, Karine Jean-Pierre and Symone Sanders, for senior communications roles. Either would make history as the first Black press secretary. Biden is also considering Kate Bedingfield for the press secretary role or possibly in the position of communications director.

Symone Sanders
Senior adviser for the Biden campaign Symone Sanders. (Matt Rourke/AP)

Bedingfield, who worked as communications director and deputy campaign manager during Biden’s White House bid, is thought to have her pick of the positions since she was with Biden’s campaign from the start and is highly regarded by the team. Bedingfield, who’s worked with Biden for years prior to this campaign, has a close working relationship with the president-elect. A Biden campaign source said Bedingfield has unique authority as a communicator due to that relationship and the fact she has “a deep understanding of Joe Biden’s vision and his view of the world.” Staffing decisions are unlikely to crystallize until after Thanksgiving.

Sanders and Jean-Pierre are newer additions to Biden’s orbit. Both are seen as potentially providing Biden with credibility on the left amid ongoing Democratic Party infighting between progressives and moderates.

Sanders, who was on Biden’s team from the day he launched his White House bid in 2019, was national press secretary to Sen. Bernie Sanders during his 2016 presidential campaign. The pair are, as she often jokingly reminded reporters, not related.

Jean-Pierre joined Biden’s campaign in August as chief of staff to his running mate, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. She has had a long career in Democratic politics, including stints working as an analyst at MSNBC, an adviser and spokeswoman to the progressive group MoveOn.org, and on the 2016 presidential campaign of former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.

Karine Jean-Pierre
Political analyst Karine Jean-Pierre. (Gary Gershoff/Getty Images)

A staffer who worked with Jean-Pierre on O’Malley’s campaign described her as someone with a “very strong political acumen” who is “cool under pressure” and “knows how to handle tough situations.” They also noted Jean-Pierre’s progressive credentials. According to the staffer, Jean-Pierre’s bona fides on the left came in handy when O’Malley was loudly booed at a conference for progressive activists after he proclaimed “White Lives Matter. All Lives Matter.”

The staffer said Jean-Pierre “quickly explained” to O’Malley why the phrase sparked backlash and arranged for him to have meetings with “criminal justice advocates” who helped him craft a racial justice platform. O’Malley later apologized for the remark.

“She is probably one of the rarer notable progressive figures who is equally well liked among progressive Democrats and more moderate Democrats. That’s not easy,” the staffer said. “Karine bridges that gap quite nicely.”

Whoever ends up on Biden’s White House team, there is one way in which he is likely to be far less available to the media than the current president. Even as Trump curtailed traditional venues for the press corps to question his administration, he offered reporters an unprecedented level of direct access with freewheeling question-and-answer sessions in the Oval Office and on the South Lawn. Trump was also known for calling reporters directly.

Kate Bedingfield
Kate Bedingfield, deputy campaign manager and director of communications for the Biden campaign. (via Facebook)

David Axelrod, a senior adviser in the Obama White House, is certain that Biden won’t have constant direct interactions with the press corps like Trump did.

“Not a chance, not a chance, not a chance,” Axelrod said in a conversation with Yahoo.

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