New White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has ties to NYC, Long Island

Jean-Pierre has served as Biden's principal deputy press secretary since Inauguration Day
WASHINGTON (WABC) -- The woman who will become the next White House press secretary, and who will be first Black woman and openly LGBTQ person to serve in the role, grew up on Long Island after moving from Queens.

President Joe Biden on Thursday named Karine Jean-Pierre to be the next White House press secretary, with incumbent Jen Psaki set to leave the post next week.

Jean-Pierre was born in Martinique before her family immigrated to Queens Village when she was 5.

Her mother worked as a home health aide, while her father was a taxi driver.

The family then moved to Hempstead, where she attended what is now Joseph A. McNeill Elementary school before excelling as a student and track star at Kellenberg Memorial High School in Uniondale.

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She was also a volunteer firefighter, and her old captain, Jeff Spencer at Hempstead Hose 2 Fire Company, is still marveling at the great news.

"I always felt like she was destined for great things, because she never took no for an answer," he said.

She went on to receive her college degree from the New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury followed by her Master's at Columbia, where she served in student government.

"I think we're all elated that we've seen the first out LGTBQ person, and the first Black woman that is taking the role of White House Press Secretary," LGBT Network President David Kilmnick said.

Jean-Pierre takes on the role as the White House faces an uphill battle to help Democrats hold onto the House and Senate in this fall's midterm elections, and as the administration struggles to address Americans' concerns about soaring inflation and the state of the economy.

She also comes into the job as Biden faces a daunting array of foreign policy challenges, including the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine and North Korea's escalating nuclear testing program. Biden is set to visit South Korea and Japan later this month and Europe in June.

"Karine not only brings the experience, talent and integrity needed for this difficult job, but she will continue to lead the way in communicating about the work of the Biden-Harris administration on behalf of the American people," Biden said in a statement praising Jean-Pierre, who has served as his principal deputy press secretary since Inauguration Day.

Psaki, who leaves the White House on May 13, praised her successor as a "partner in truth," noting the significance of the history-making appointment.

"Representation matters, and she is going to give a voice to so many and show so many what is truly possible when you work hard and dream big," Psaki said.

Taking the lectern briefly while Psaki briefed the press Thursday, Jean-Pierre said she was "still processing" the significance of her hire, calling it "an honor and privilege to be behind this podium."

"This is a historic moment, and it's not lost on me," she said. "It's a very emotional day."

Psaki said Biden offered the job to Jean-Pierre Thursday in the Oval Office. White House staffers were gathered after the offer and greeted Jean-Pierre with applause, an official said.

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Jean-Pierre had occasionally taken the lectern in the press briefing room instead of Psaki and more frequently held off-camera "gaggles" with reporters when Biden was traveling on Air Force One. She traveled with Biden to Europe last fall and in March instead of Psaki, who had tested positive for COVID-19 before both trips.

Before joining the Biden presidential campaign, Jean-Pierre was the chief public affairs officer of the progressive group MoveOn.org and a former political analyst for NBC and MSNBC. She also worked in political affairs in the Obama White House and on his reelection campaign.

The press secretary is responsible for holding daily briefings with the news media and leading a department of more than a dozen staffers who help address queries from the press.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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