Jen Psaki will now take the questions on MSNBC

The White House press office has long been a reliable path to a career in television news. There are currently five hosts who have previously worked there, and President Biden’s former press secretary Jen Psaki joins their ranks Sunday when her weekly hour-long show debuts on MSNBC at 9 a.m. in the Pacific.

Psaki, who previously worked for former President Obama and John Kerry when he served as secretary of state, has logged enough hours in front of the camera to be a familiar face to news viewers. But “Inside With Jen Psaki” will still be something of an introduction.

“She’s really speaking for herself for the first time in her career,” said Rebecca Kutler, senior vice president of content strategy for MSNBC. “It will be a great opportunity for the public to get to know Jen.”

“Inside With Jen Psaki” will go beyond the traditional television platform. It will be available to stream on Peacock after its run on MSNBC, along with a second version that will run exclusively on the service. Psaki will also take over MSNBC’s flagship newscast on Saturdays and will have an additional show on YouTube later this year.

In a recent interview, 44-year-old Psaki shared some thoughts about her career and her next phase.

MSNBC appeals to a politically progressive audience. But many people still sitting in front of the television are looking more for a straight discussion about the news. Will you think of it as an opinion show or a more middling news show?

I’m thinking more about it as I’m going to choose Option C, which is an updated show. I have worked for Democratic politicians, including two Democratic presidents, for 20 years. I’m not going to pretend that I haven’t worked on these campaigns and sat in the briefing room or on the campaign bus. That wouldn’t be very helpful to viewers. I’m also not going to pretend that I don’t think I’ve long supported a woman’s right to choose or people’s ability to marry who they want or be who they want, because that wouldn’t be authentic.

But I also think that we have sometimes strayed from what I would consider healthy discussions and debates on a range of issues. And I will certainly invite a number of Republicans on the show to debate with them. If they say something that is false or inaccurate, I will call it out. But I also think that my experience in government makes these discussions a healthy part of the debate.

What were the politics like in Stamford, Conn., home where you grew up?

I grew up in a divided household, where my mom would vote for any Democrat, no matter who he was. My dad was a Northeastern Republican, not on social issues, more on fiscal issues. He is a born-again progressive. He’s 80 now, so in his late 50s or early 60s, he became a Democrat. But growing up, one of my earliest political memories was my dad saying to my mom, “You’re the only person in the country who voted for Walter Mondale.” And I was 6 or 5 years old at the time and I thought, “Mom, man, are you the only person?”

In your previous job, you were known for your calm and steady presence in the White House briefing room. Is there something in your habits that keeps you like this? Is it yoga? Diet? Jesus Christ?

My sister is an ordained Unitarian minister so I wish I could say it was my connection to my faith that I need to work on more. But I would say that when people are freaking out and there’s total chaos around me, my instinctive reaction is to be calm, because I don’t want to dive into the chaos.

There are a lot of universities and colleges in DC, so if I met students on the street, they’d ask me, “What’s going through your head when so-and-so asks you a crazy question?” And I said, “Sometimes I think I’m an orderly in an insane asylum. And if I speak slowly and calmly, everyone will calm down.” I have a little Irish temper in me sometimes, so that comes out. But I think in this job as well, one of the first conversations I had with the president was about the need for calm and stability to return.

Jen Psaki speaks during a press conference at the White House in 2021.

(Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

I was told by a friend of yours — a seasoned media industry veteran — that you might be too “normal” to be on TV. He said you don’t need it. Not self-promoting. Not self-absorbed. He is right;

Well, that’s a huge compliment, and my mother, if she reads this story, as she would, would love it more than anything that’s in there. My mother is a family therapist who grew up in Queens, New York, and she always says that everything comes from Queens. He says, “That’s where you get your charm and character,” even though I didn’t grow up there. It didn’t matter what job I ever had, if she ever saw me getting too big for my cigarettes, putting people down, or not treating people with value and respect — that’s the thing that would upset her deeply. She wouldn’t care if I had a big job. I always think, “What would my mother think?” for anything that happens, and that’s a big foundation for me.

Do you think President Biden was punished for not being entertaining enough as president? Has Donald Trump warped the public’s perception of what a president’s performance skills should be?

There were people – who were never recorded – who said, “It’s boring” or “Ugh, so much politics, paper and briefing calls.” And my response to that has always been kind of like, “Well, if you’re not interested in updating the papers and the calls about the history and the policies that are going to affect people’s lives, maybe you need to cover something else.” But the truth is that the vast majority of White House reporters loved the return to politics.

Your exchanges with Fox News White House Correspondent Peter Ducey they were legendary. Do you keep in touch?

I really like Peter. We had a good relationship. We had a lot of fun back and forth, and sometimes heated back and forth in the briefing room. This is healthy in democracy. Peter and I also had many discussions in my office on a number of issues. I always found him professional.

In a split image on television, a masked man and a woman at a White House press conference.

Ducey regularly volleys with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki during briefings.

(Fox News)

So, what are your thoughts on what we’ve seen on Fox News over the last few weeks in court documents the Dominion Voting Systems defamation suit; against the network? There have been many internal discussions about helping the Republican candidates. Will it affect how Democrats view Fox News in the future?

I don’t think there is an easy answer. The challenge, at least right now, is that it doesn’t hurt [Fox News] so much. If Democrats don’t show up on their air, what do they care? That’s not a big part of their business model, as far as I can tell. At the same time, Fox has a huge audience, including several Democrats. I appeared on “Fox News Sunday” more than any other Sunday show when I was in the White House as press secretary because I felt it was important to have a voice there. There are people like Pete Buttigieg and certainly others who have been quite effective at Fox. And I don’t know that saying that you shouldn’t do that anymore is quite the right thing to do. You are leaving a huge landscape.

So who came up with the name of the show? And what does it say to the viewer?

It was a team effort. I wanted it to say something beyond my name about what we were trying to do. I think the hope is that what we’re going to do is bring people into the room, having people that I know in government or have known in the past, really talk and dig into what the issues are, bring people into the lives of politicians and people that you see in public and show a different side. That’s what people will take away from the show.

A red-haired woman in a green blouse speaks during a press briefing at the White House in 2021.

Jen Psaki at the daily press at the White House on Friday, July 16, 2021.

(Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

What do you bring to this role that we don’t already know about you?

A huge curiosity about a lot of things going on in the world—whether it’s what the heck is going on in China, how exactly the war in Ukraine is going to end, how all these Senate races are going to land, who the Republican nominee is going to be? And even things people don’t know about me. I’m a mom, obviously. I’m also obsessed with the Olympics. I am a Cincinnati Bengals fan. So I’m curious about a million things.

The best advice I got was to make it a conversation. And also the second part of it which is maybe even more important is to listen to what people are saying and respond to it and not get so caught up in your plan for the show that you don’t take the conversation to the most interesting place.

You are a Bengals fan. I feel a booking for Joe Burrow may be coming.

God, this is the dream. My in-laws said that if he ever came on this show, they would all come to the interview, so I said that’s fine.

Has it already been discussed?

Yes, he has an open invitation to come. Or we will come to him.

Leave a Comment