White House Finalizes Makeover of Press Operation

From a Washington Post story by Tyler Pager headlined “White House moves staffers to finalize makeover of press operation”:

The White House has finalized the senior ranks of its press and communications office, months after Jen Psaki’s departure led to an internal shuffling.

The moves elevate several people with ties to SKDK, the Washington public affairs firm, though all of them have longstanding ties with Biden that predate their work for SKDK.

Olivia Dalton, who most recently served as the communications director at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, will join the White House press office as principal deputy press secretary, filling the job Karine Jean-Pierre held before she was elevated to press secretary.

Dalton worked for then-Sen. Joe Biden for two years before he became vice president and then served in the Obama administration. She worked on the Biden transition and served as press secretary to first lady Michelle Obama during the 2012 campaign.

In selecting Dalton, Jean-Pierre passed over at least two internal candidates for the job. Both Andrew Bates and Chris Meagher, who serve as deputy press secretaries, were in contention for the job. As the principal deputy press secretary, Dalton will likely conduct White House press briefings on occasion.

“Olivia is a seasoned communications strategist with experience at the highest levels of government, national campaigns and leading non-profits,” Jean-Pierre said in a statement. “She is smart, savvy and a true pro. She will be a tremendous addition to the press team and true asset for the entire Biden Harris Administration.”

Herbie Ziskend, who currently works as a senior adviser for communications to Vice President Harris, will move to the West Wing to work as a deputy communications director. He worked for Biden as vice president and on Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign. He has worked for Harris since she took office.

As part of the changes, Kate Berner will also be promoted to principal deputy communications director. Berner, who worked on Biden’s campaign, has served as a deputy communications director in the White House since the start of the administration. She also worked for Biden when he was vice president.

“Kate and Herbie are longtime pillars of the Biden-Harris communications operation through the campaign, the convention, the transition and now the Administration,” Kate Bedingfield, the White House communications director, said in a statement. “They bring insight, passion and great judgment to their work and we are excited that they will continue to be critical leaders on this team as we continue to make progress for the American people.”

Dalton, Berner and Ziskend also all worked at SKDK, a public affairs firm co-founded by Anita Dunn, a senior adviser to Biden. Dunn has played a central role in the personnel decisions.

SKDK’s ties can be found throughout the Biden’s orbit: More than a dozen officials who worked on Biden’s campaign, transition or White House had ties to the firm, and at least eight officials who have served in the Biden administration subsequently joined or rejoined the firm. Dunn is no longer with the firm.

Dunn and her firm are a powerful force in Biden’s Washington, straddling the line between the private and public worlds to help staff the administration, steer the presidency and shape the Democratic Party. At the same time, the firm has served a sprawling roster of high-powered clients in recent years, including Fortune 500 companies like AT&T and Pfizer.

“It’s exciting to add Olivia and Herbie to such a great group of communicators, and Kate Berner’s promotion is appropriate recognition of the invaluable role she plays,” Dunn said in a statement.

Tyler Pager is a White House reporter at The Washington Post. He joined the paper in 2021 after covering the White House at Politico and the 2020 presidential campaign at Bloomberg News.

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