Before her tenure as White House press secretary under President Joe Biden, Jen Psaki could walk across downtown Austin without being recognized. In 2008, she did exactly that, campaigning and working for then-presidential hopeful Barack Obama.
During that leg of the race, Psaki bought a pair of authentic Texan boots. Fifteen years later, Psaki will don those same “lucky cowboy boots” at her Friday afternoon SXSW conversation with Chelsea Handler.
“[Handler] is one of the most interesting public people out there today,” Psaki said about the comedian she will share a stage with at the Austin Convention Center. Psaki, whose career in media and politics includes high-profile roles as a CNN commentator and U.S. State Department spokesperson, said she looks forward to asking Handler about everything from the national to the personal. “She’s also hysterically funny, so I’m gonna try not to kind of laugh my whole way through this interview,” Psaki added.
From her first press briefing for the Biden-Harris administration on Inauguration Day 2021, Psaki became known for her wit, charm, and, at times, humor. “I’m a believer that you can disagree without being disagreeable,” she told the Chronicle. “There are important policy debates happening in our country, no doubt of course, and people have different views on things, but I do think that there are moments of levity and humor that can take venom out of conversation.” Psaki followed up on that comment, clarifying that she doesn’t believe there are two legitimate sides to every argument, specifically election denialism, xenophobia, and racism.
On Inside with Jen Psaki, her new weekly series premiering on MSNBC on Sunday, March 19, Psaki said she anticipates viewers will learn something new every time they tune in. While the show will invite newsmakers to discuss hard news and policy agendas, she said, it will also feature more behind-the-scenes segments. “We’ve been working on one we’re calling ‘Weekend Routine’ where we’re going to spend a couple of hours with prominent people … to learn more about what makes them tick, whether it’s what books they’re reading, how they take their coffee, or what drives them to do what they do,” she said. “To me, that shows a different side of people and really moves past what often happens, which is people are often caricatured, for good or for bad, of who they are.”
In May of 2022, Psaki departed from her role at the White House to focus on her two children, now ages 4 and 7. She said she makes a point of dropping the kids off at school, even doing so just before boarding her flight to Austin. On that note, Psaki said that although she loves her kids to pieces, she admires that Chelsea Handler embraces (and frequently vocalizes) her decision not to have children.
Psaki lamented that as much as she would love to spend the week at SXSW, she’ll have to leave Austin right away to attend the prestigious Gridiron Club dinner in Washington, D.C. on Saturday evening. How does she keep up? “Well, coffee,” she said with a chuckle.
SXSW Studio: Jen Psaki with Wajahat Ali
Fri 10, 11am, Online and On Demand
Featured Session: Chelsea Handler & Jen Psaki
Media Industry Track
Fri 10, 2:30pm, Austin Convention Center, Ballroom EF
Catch up with all of The Austin Chronicle‘s SXSW 2023 coverage.