Psaki also said she would carry out daily news briefings — a change from previous administration, which would often go weeks without addressing reporters. Former press secretary Stephanie Grisham did not have a single briefing during her time in the position. Trump often opted to make major policy and personnel announcements from his personal Twitter account. Psaki’s appearance on Wednesday was the first White House news briefing since Dec. 15.
For the White House press corps and news media at large, besieged by Trump for four years and denigrated as “fake news,” Psaki’s maiden answers from the podium established a new standard that the White House must now live by. But while Psaki’s remarks were aimed at reporters in the briefing room, her audience was just as much the American people in an effort to reinforce that the Biden administration was turning a page from the recent past of obfuscation and outright lies.
Psaki’s debut appearance was a diametric contrast to the first news briefing of the Trump presidency, where then-press secretary Sean Spicer insisted that Trump’s inauguration crowd was the largest in U.S. history — a claim that was quickly proved false with aerial photos of the event.
But not everything was back to pre-Trump times on Wednesday. The briefing room was far under capacity to respect Covid social-distancing rules, and Psaki came out onto the lectern in an N-95 mask — a preventative measure that former-press secretary Kayleigh McEnany often declined. (Psaki removed her mask when she started speaking.)
Psaki also outlined a number of policy objectives and went through executive orders that Biden had signed as part of his first day in office. The orders reversed some of the signature actions of the Trump administration, including increased fortifications on the southern border and a travel ban from several Muslim-majority countries. They also enacted a mask mandate in federal spaces to combat the coronavirus pandemic, and returned the United States to the Paris Climate Agreement.
Fielding questions about coronavirus relief, Psaki said Biden was “no stranger to the process of bill making,” and reiterated the president’s campaign pledge to work across the aisle to pass comprehensive relief legislation.
“We’re at the beginning of the process,” Psaki said. “Rarely does it look exactly like the initial package that is proposed.”
She also said that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert and one of the most public faces of the Trump White House’s coronavirus efforts, would participate in a virtual meeting with the World Health Organization. The move is a reversal of Trump’s plans to withdraw the U.S. from the global health body in the middle of the pandemic.
Wednesday’s briefing was not Psaki’s first go in the White House communications shop. Prior to her current role, Psaki worked several positions for President Barack Obama’s press operation and served as a spokesperson for the State Department at the end of Obama’s presidency.
Christopher Cadelago contributed to this report.