Kate Bedingfield’s debut in the White House press briefing room this week came under unlikely circumstances — the benching of two of her colleagues due to Covid-19 — but could lead to greater visibility for Joe Biden’s longtime comms director.
“I know I am not the redhead you’re accustomed to seeing at this podium, but I hope you will hang with me nonetheless,” Ms Bedingfield, 40, joked to reporters at her first briefing on Tuesday.
The lighthearted quip would have been unremarkable in a void but after four years of the Trump presidency clashes wildly with the first impressions made by Sean Spicer, who famously battled reporters’ assertions of reality at his tumultuous first appearance, or others like former comms director Anthony Scaramucci, who pursued his own New York-flavoured style at the podium for a few days before being used after an expletive-laden tirade at a journalist.
Now, Ms Bedingfield is set to give her third White House press briefing in as many days, and with PuckNews reporting that Ms Psaki may hang up her White House badge by the end of 2022, it’s becoming clear that the appearances are having the effect, even if wholly unintentional, of serving as Ms Bedingfield’s audition for the job.
She isn’t the only one who could potentially be selected as the next press secretary for Mr Biden, to be clear — her most clear competition comes in the form of Karine Jean-Pierre, the principal deputy press secretary and most commonly the top choice for the team if Ms Psaki is unavailable for daily briefings. Ms Jean-Pierre would be the first Black woman to serve as the chief White House press secretary, and she already made history as the first Black woman to deliver a briefing in decades when she did so last year.
So far, Ms Bedingfield’s briefings have lacked the fireworks resulting from clashes between Ms Psaki and right-leaning reporters like Fox News’s Peter Doocy — a phenomenon observable in many of Karine Jean-Pierre’s briefings as well — but that could change if one or both of the Biden aides take on a more prominent public image. Her most memorable moment of her so far, if you can call it that, was her quick shutdown of a question about the “slap heard ’round the world”, Will Smith’s smack on the face of comedian Chris Rock onstage at Sunday’s Academy Awards.
There are a handful of others who could potentially serve as plausible successors to Ms Psaki, like the State Department’s Ned Price or even, according to Political Playbook, a journalist or first lady Dr Jill Biden’s comms director, Elizabeth Alexander. But with the departure of Vice President Kamala Harris’s principal press secretary Symone Sanders, long considered a potential candidate for the top spot, at the end of 2021 it has become clear that Ms Bedingfield and Ms Jean-Pierre are the two top contenders.
The Independent reached out to the White House and Ms Bedingfield for comment on this story; neither responded immediately. The Biden administration has been tight-lipped about personnel changes, and far less prone to leaks from the communications team than was the last administration.
Donald Trump famously churned through press secretaries while in office and even saw one deputy press secretary resign in protest among a wave of fleeing officials in the wake of the January 6 attack.
Ms Psaki enters her 15th month on the job on Friday, a marathon stretch by the former administration’s standards, and publicly has not made any comments about her plans.
She said last week that she planned to return to the office after a five-day isolation period at home and a negative Covid-19 test result, but the White House has not yet said when she will return to the briefing room.
The diagnosis is her second Covid-positive experience since joining the Biden White House; she was previously sidelined in late October due to the virus and returned to the podium 12 days later.