Joe Biden‘s new press secretary attempted suicide after she failed the exams to become a doctor, which followed her mother reacting with disgust to her coming out as gay.
Karine Jean-Pierre, 44, is the first black woman to become the White House press secretary, and the first openly gay person.
She lives in Washington DC with her partner Suzanne Malveaux, a CNN national correspondent. They met in 2012 at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, and now have a seven-year-old daughter, Soleil, born in 2014.
Jean-Pierre last year told her own story of coming out to her family, to mark Pride Month.
She had previously recounted, in her 2019 book, her attempt to take her own life.
Her sister Edwine found her unconscious and saved her, she said.
Jean-Pierre said she decided to kill herself to the sounds of Mary J. Blige’s song Everlasting Love, and was woken from her unconscious state by Edwine.
‘To this day, no one in my family has ever talked to me about my suicide attempt,’ she wrote.
‘The fact that I actually tried to take my own life is so shameful and agonizing to me that I have never had the nerve to broach the subject with Edwine.’
She said she still feels ‘terrible about what I put Edwine through’.
Karine Jean-Pierre is pictured center with her mother (right) and sister Edwine (left)
Jean-Pierre is seen with Jen Psaki on Thursday, as her new job was announced
‘I came out to my Mom when I was 16 years old,’ she tweeted in June 2021.
‘The revolted look on her face sent me running back into the proverbial closet and slamming the door shut.
‘After that, my sexuality became a family secret and it would stay that way for years.
‘I dated, but I hid those relationships from my family.
‘Just as American society has evolved over the course of the past couple of decades to embrace the LGBTQ community (never forgetting we still have work to do), my family has evolved to embrace my membership in it.
‘I’m proud to be an out Black Queer woman and I have been for quite some time.
‘I’m happy to say, my Mother is now proud of ALL of who I am; she loves my partner and she loves being a doting grandmother to the daughter we are raising.
‘My journey towards feeling accepted by myself and loved ones wasn’t an easy one, but it was worthwhile.
‘No matter where you are in your journey, I see you, we see you and we celebrate you – Happy Pride!’
Jean-Pierre grew up in the New York borough of Queens, where the family moved when she was five.
Born in Martinique, Jean-Pierre is pictured celebrating a birthday as a child. The family moved to Queens when she was five
Jean-Pierre is pictured on the day of her graduation, in New York
Jean-Pierre is pictured with John Lewis, the late civil rights leader, when she worked as an activist for Move On
Both her parents were Haitian: her father was a cab driver and her mother was a health care worker.
She studied pre-med at New York Institute of Technology on Long Island, but failed to pass her exams.
In her 2019 book, she writes that that, coupled with struggling with her sexuality, led her to spiral into depression and attempt suicide – saved by her sister, Edwine, who found her following an attempted carbon monoxide poisoning.
‘I felt like an idiot,’ she writes.
‘Thanks in large part to my inability to confront my sexuality, I was so afraid of who I really was that I invested absolutely everything into who my parents and siblings thought I was and wanted me to be.
‘Becoming a doctor was to be my saving grace.
‘I had always clung to it as if it were a life raft.
‘So when I failed at this one thing, my entire world crumbled. I wanted to die.’
She said she now knows she ‘wasn’t thinking straight’, but spent weeks planning how to do it.
From left: Edwine and her baby, Christopher, and Karine in a photo posted in April 2020
Karine, Edwine and Christopher remain close, with Edwine and Christopher still living in New York
The family are pictured visiting the White House in an undated photo
But the sisters remain close, with Instagram photos showing them all together, with their brother Christopher, a personal trainer.
Both Edwine and Christopher still live in New York.
Jean-Pierre then became a volunteer firefighter, and eventually landed a place at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.
Jean-Pierre has said she was never initially interested in politics – associating it, in her parents’ homeland, with corruption – but was mentored by David Dinkins, mayor of New York City from 1990 to 1993: the first black person to be mayor of the city.
Jean-Pierre is seen with her mentor David Dinkins, the first black mayor of New York City. He is holding a copy of her 2019 book, Moving Forward
Dinkins is pictured with Soleil, Jean-Pierre and Malveaux’s daughter, who was born in 2014
Jean-Pierre worked in local politics before getting involved on the national stage – first with John Edwards’ campaign, and then in 2008 with Barack Obama
She worked in New York City council before becoming involved in national politics – working on the John Edwards campaign during his 2004 presidential run, and then in 2008 as the political director for the White House Office of Political Affairs during the Obama administration.
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.
Biden offered the job to Jean-Pierre on Thursday in the Oval Office.
White House staffers were gathered after the offer and greeted Jean-Pierre with applause, an official said.
Two ‘warm bottles’ of champagne were procured for a toast in White House paper cups, the official added.
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.
Jean-Pierre is pictured with MSNBC anchor Nicolle Wallace, in yellow
Jean-Pierre addresses the press on January 24 in the White House grounds
She traveled with Biden to Europe last fall and in March instead of Psaki, who had tested positive for COVID-19 before both trips.
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.
He praised Jean-Pierre, who has served as his principal deputy press secretary since Inauguration Day.
Psaki, who leaves the White House on May 13, described 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 on Thursday, Jean-Pierre said she was ‘still processing’ the significance of her hire.
She called 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.’