Karine Jean-Pierre opened her first briefing as White House press secretary Monday with a tribute to the victims of the mass shooting at a Buffalo, N.Y., supermarket Saturday.
Jean-Pierre, a lesbian and longtime political activist, is the first out member of the LGBTQ+ community to be White House press secretary. She is also the first Black person in the job. Previously principal deputy press secretary, she succeeds Jen Psaki, who left to join MSNBC. She had filled in for Psaki at the daily briefing before, but Monday marked her first appearance in her new post.
“Before we start the briefing, I want to take a moment to recognize the lives lost and forever changed in Buffalo,” she said.
Ten people, most of them Black, were killed in the attack at the Tops supermarket. The accused gunman is Payton S. Gendron, an 18-year-old white man who is believed to be the author of a racist screed posted to the online message board 4Chan. The document promotes the theory that whites are in danger of being replaced by members of other races and that Jewish people are encouraging this replacement. The attack is being investigated as a racially motivated hate crime.
Jean-Pierre offered a description of each person who died. They included Aaron Salter, a 55-year-old former Buffalo police lieutenant working as a security guard at the store, a “hero … who engaged the suspect to save lives and was killed in the process,” she said. There was Ruth Whitfield, 86, the mother of Buffalo’s retired fire commissioner Garnell W. Whitfield and “the rock of the family,” who had just come from visiting her husband in a nursing home, Jean-Pierre said. Another was Pearl Young, 77, a substitute teacher who volunteered weekly at her church’s food pantry.
“We recognize their lives today and those lost affected by gun violence this weekend in Houston, in Southern California, Milwaukee, and communities across the country,” Jean-Pierre added. “And we honor the bravery of those in law enforcement who responded quickly and with professionalism in Buffalo, and risk their lives every day to protect and serve their communities.”
She noted that President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden will visit Buffalo Tuesday to meet with the victims’ families, first responders, and community leaders. “They will comfort the families of the 10 people whose lives were senselessly taken in this horrific shooting, and they will express gratitude for the bravery of members of law enforcement and other first responders who took immediate action to try to protect and save lives,” Jean-Pierre said.
She went on to mention the president’s planned meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Biden’s action plan to increase the supply of affordable housing, and progress on infrastructure improvement, and the historic nature of her role. “I am obviously acutely aware that my presence at this podium represents a few firsts,” she said. “I am a Black gay immigrant woman, the first of all three of those to hold this position. I would not be here today if it were not for generations of barrier-breaking people before me. I stand on their shoulders. … I benefit from their sacrifices, I have learned from their excellence, and I am forever grateful to them.
“Representation does matter … and no one understands that better than President Biden, which is why his administration is not only the most diverse in history, it is filled with barrier-breaking women and men, from the vice president to the Cabinet secretaries to his Supreme Court nominee to senior staff throughout this administration,” she added.
She noted the administration’s commitment to truth and transparency and her respect for the media, then took questions on the Buffalo shooting and a variety of other subjects.
The briefing begins at about the 48-minute mark.