WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama disclosed he’s losing his chief spokesman on the same day that the president came to the White House briefing room to personally announce the resignation of his Veterans Affairs secretary.
It was a Friday not quite like any other recently.
Press secretary Jay Carney had a surprise visitor to his daily news briefing, which began not long after Obama’s visit there to discuss Secretary Eric Shinseki’s departure.
Standing next to Carney in the crowded room, Obama said it was “bittersweet” to see his friend step down after three and a half years on the podium.
At the same time, Obama announced that Josh Earnest, currently principal deputy press secretary, would be taking over.
Carney said the transition will be complete around mid-June, but that Earnest will take his place traveling next week on a trip that Obama has scheduled to Europe.
Carney brought rare but practical experience to the job as a former reporter who once covered the White House for Time magazine. He left journalism to join the White House as communications director for Vice President Joe Biden, and subsequently moved over to serve as Obama’s press secretary in 2011.
“He comes to this place with a reporter’s perspective,” Obama told reporters after interrupting Carney mid-sentence at the beginning of Carney’s daily news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room. “That’s why, believe it or not, I think he will miss hanging out with you.”
A key component of a White House press secretary’s job is to regularly joust with reporters in an intense question-and-answer session.
Obama said that Carney had demonstrated good judgment and temperament and said he will continue to rely on his advice from outside the West Wing. The two men embraced before Obama made his exit.
Obama said he is putting the “flak jacket” for dealing with the press on another friend in Earnest, who has worked with Obama since he was his communications director for the Iowa caucuses in the 2008 campaign.
The affable Earnest is well-liked within the White House press corps, and reporters applauded the announcement.
“As you know, his name describes his demeanor,” Obama said. “Josh is an earnest guy and you can’t find just a nicer individual even outside of Washington.”
Obama also teased Earnest for being the “golden voice and dulcet tones” that narrates West Wing Week, the weekly recap of White House events on YouTube.
The president said Carney plans to take the summer off before getting a new job.
Carney said he’s made no decision yet on his next step, but is excited about some of the possibilities he’s begun to explore. He ruled out rumors that he would serve as ambassador to Russia, after having covered the collapse of the Soviet Empire for Time, saying his wife and two children wouldn’t welcome such a move.
Carney expressed his appreciation for working at the White House for five years, even though he says being press secretary is not easy.
“It’s an important interaction that takes place here,” Carney said. “It’s not always pretty. It could certainly be better. But to be a part of it is an honor and a joy for me. And no matter how tough the briefing is, I walk out of here having been glad to stand here.”