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Tension in White House as Karine Jean-Pierre, John Kirby split briefing time

Will the real White House spokesperson please stand up?

Biden press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and National Security Council spokesman John Kirby are reportedly at odds behind the scenes over how responsibilities for their regular media briefings are being divvied up.

Kirby, a former top spokesman for the Pentagon and State Department, has made increasingly frequent appearances on the podium since the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attack on Israel — and is a favorite of the president, who often asks Kirby to brief him personally, according to Axios.

Despite his prominence as the administration’s de facto foreign policy spokesman, Kirby’s briefing room appearances are tightly controlled by Jean-Pierre — who selects which reporters can ask Kirby questions.

The press secretary notably does no such thing when Kirby’s nominal boss, national security adviser Jake Sullivan, attends briefings — leading Kirby to express frustration with the situation.

The increasingly prominent role of the National Security Council’s John Kirby at White House press briefings in recent months has reportedly led to rising tensions behind the podium. Getty Images

“It’s not my briefing room,” the 60-year-old Kirby, a retired Navy rear admiral, recently groused to one person who asked how he was enjoying his White House position, sources tell The Post.

The awkwardness dates back to Jen Psaki’s departure as White House press secretary in May 2022, two weeks before Kirby came over from the Pentagon.

President Biden formally offered Jean-Pierre the role as Psaki’s successor, but muddied the waters by adding that she would be working with Kirby, Jean-Pierre told colleagues at the time, according to Axios.

Since then, some black administration members have suggested to the media the arrangement was insulting to Jean-Pierre because it implied the first-ever African-American press secretary was in need of supervision.

Kirby has been front-and-center at White House press briefings since the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attack in Israel. AFP via Getty Images

Meanwhile, Kirby has reportedly told people that he would like to be press secretary one day, though a White House official told The Post Friday he has never volunteered that ambition. Jean-Pierre, for her part, has said she intends to remain in her role at least through this year’s election and claims Biden has asked her not to leave.

In a sign of Kirby’s rising star, he has begun accompanying the president aboard Air Force One on domestic trips as well as international visits, reportedly at the request of senior White House adviser Anita Dunn.

The pair have only been confronted about the arrangement once, in September 2022, when Kirby firmly brushed off questions from Today News Africa reporter and occasional briefing room gadfly Simon Ateba about whether he was a “second press secretary” who was effectively doing the same job as Jean-Pierre.

“If anyone gets any kind of idea in their head that [I’m] taking away from Karine or her work, that’s really regrettable. And I’m very sorry that that’s any impression that anyone would have,” Kirby said at the time.

“I’m able to come up here every now and then to talk to you about national security issues. That’s my portfolio. That’s where I’m limited. That’s where I’ll stay,” he added, noting that his appearances in the briefing room where preceded by invitations from, and the approval of, Jean-Pierre.

AP

Ateba has not been called upon to ask a question since.

Since the outbreak of war in the Middle East, Kirby has been by Jean-Pierre’s side at more than 30 press briefings, with the press secretary only making a solo appearance once during that time.

Complicating matters is Jean-Pierre’s history of needlessly creating headaches for the White House.

In June, the Office of Special Counsel determined Jean-Pierre’s repeated use of the term “mega MAGA Republicans” in the run-up to the 2022 midterm elections constituted a violation of the Hatch Act, which restricts federal employees from engaging in political activities that could influence an election.

However the agency declined to take further action, saying merely that White House lawyers disagreed that her remarks were prohibited under the act.

Jean-Pierre also drew sharp criticism during an Oct. 23 press briefing when she answered a question about the rise of antisemitism in the US, claiming the White House hadn’t seen “any credible threats” against the Jewish community before pivoting to talk about hate crimes against Muslims and Arab Americans.

Jean-Pierre later told Fox News Digital that she had misheard the question before unequivocally condemning the “repulsive increase in antisemitic rhetoric, conspiracy theories, and hate crimes in our nation,” which she called “a rising threat.”

A White House official who works closely with both both Jean-Pierre and Kirby told The Post that they’ve seen no sign of a rift between the two.

“As someone who spends more time ‘behind closed doors’ with both of them than just about any other person, I don’t recognize this description of their relationship at all,” the official said. “The truth is the opposite — they talk all the time and have a collegial and collaborative rapport.”

Written by SaleemBaloch

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