Psaki signals departure - WaPo campaigns for Symone Sanders to fill the job

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Jen Psaki generated some buzz at the end of last week after participating in David Axelrod’s podcast. During her interview with him, she said she expects to leave her job as White House press secretary ‘in about a year’. While this is good news for those of us who not impressed with Psaki, we should be careful of what we wish for. Her replacement could very well be a Bernie bro – or more accurately, a Bernie gal.

Axelrod asked Psaki a question about her plans during last week’s “The Axe Files” and she referenced a timeline of about a year for her departure. Apparently, she accepted the job with only committing for a year or so of service.

“You said at the beginning that you didn’t expect to be in this job forever, for four years and so on. Is that still your thought that at some point you’re going to step away now?” Axelrod asked.

“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,” Psaki replied.

“I mean, when I talked to the inner circle of the Biden orbit about this, we talked about coming in and doing this job for a year, which was quite appealing to me for many reasons,” Psaki added.”One, this is, what a moment in history. Right. To be a part of. It’s always true in the White House. But I think following Trump, especially if you can take the temperature down a little bit, that’s a cool thing to be a part of.”

Say what you will about Jen Psaki (and I have), she is experienced with spin. Lord knows she had plenty of opportunities during her time as John Kerry’s spokesperson at the State Department during the Obama years to learn the job. She sees herself as a normalizing force in the White House briefing room now after the contentious Trump years. The contrast between how the White House press corps treats her and how they treated Trump’s press secretaries is stark. Psaki eggs on the kid gloves treatment by bringing the reporters homemade cookies. Reporters were screaming at Sarah Sanders and asking her how she slept at night during her time behind the podium and now the reporters all but gush about Psaki.

Psaki wants to leave to spend more time with her very young children, which is understandable. (Sarah Sanders was the first working mom to serve as White House press secretary.)

“I have little kids and I don’t want to miss time with them. And, you know, my daughter is going into kindergarten. I have a lot of years with her, but she’s kind of a magical unicorn. And I don’t want to miss moments. I don’t want to miss things,” the press secretary said.

Another eyebrow-raising part of the podcast interview was when she admitted to her fellow Obama alumni that she advises Biden to ignore questions from the press. She said the quiet part out loud. The last thing the White House wants is for Joe Biden to answer questions from the press.

“A lot of times, we say, ‘Don’t take questions,'” she continued. “But he’s going to do what he wants to do because he’s the president of the United States.”

Funny, usually Biden is only too happy to indicate that he isn’t calling the shots on what he does and does not do. He has said on more than one occasion that he’ll get in trouble for doing something. He’s the leader of the free world, allegedly, so who is running the place? My money is on Kamala and Jill.

Conveniently for someone who is chomping at the bit for Psaki’s job, the Washington Post ran a puff piece on Symone Sanders and her fiance, Shawn Townsend (no relation). The interview had been conducted a few weeks ago at Old Ebbitt and the hook is that Sanders is an insider now with a fiance who is D.C.’s Night Mayor. They are the Biden administration’s ‘It’ couple. Townsend works for the mayor’s office as D.C.’s director of culture and nightlife. The piece was published on Saturday, after Psaki’s interview with Axelrod on Thursday. Probably just a coincidence, right?

If the Trump years were represented by couples like Jared and Ivanka, who were seen as having tension with their adopted city, and George and Kellyanne Conway, who were seen as having tension with one another, then maybe the Biden years will be defined by the likes of Sanders and Townsend. They are young, Black and in love, both working on different fronts to Make Washington Normal Again.

Sanders, it is written, was hurt that she was not offered the press secretary gig after she put in so much time and effort on the campaign trail for Joe Biden. She wants to be the first black White House press secretary. Her friend Bakari Sellers goes to bat for her while saying she was not rewarded for her newfound loyalty to Biden after coming from the Sanders campaign.

She picked a winner, but the winner didn’t pick her back. Sanders had made it known, privately and in her book, that she hoped to be the first Black woman to hold the job of press secretary. Biden instead chose Jen Psaki, a former communications director for President Barack Obama, for the job. “That one stung her,” said Bakari Sellers, a mutual friend of Townsend and Sanders.

Sellers said Sanders “spent a lot of capital” in that job, oftentimes asked to defend Biden when the campaign “had a problem with the Black community” (like, for example, when Biden put his foot in his mouth by telling Charlamagne Tha God that if anyone was having a “problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t Black.”)

“These moments were not few and far between,” Sellers said. “They would send Symone out to take those bullets. . . . And then to be passed over, that hurt.”

It was a difficult time, Townsend will admit. “She was definitely hopeful that she would have that opportunity,” he told me.

Psaki was a logical choice for Biden to make, though. She was part of the Obama administration and Biden is loading up his White House with Obama people. It’s the third term of Barack Obama – a lurch to the far left that Obama wanted and wasn’t able to completely accomplish. Biden is often criticized by the Bernie Sanders wing of the party. He can toss them a bone by bringing on Symone. She will check off another identity box and satisfy the far leftists. The Washington Post is happy to help her apply for the job.