The White House's suspension of Deputy Press Secretary TJ Ducklo falls short of Biden's promise to fire anyone who treats colleagues with disrespect
- President Joe Biden is already being tested on one of his actual “day one” promises.
- On Jan. 20, Biden said he would fire anyone who disrespects a colleague — “No ifs, ands, or buts.”
- On Friday, the WH deputy press secretary was suspended for misogynist threats against a reporter.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
The Biden White House is facing its first PR crisis, and one of the president’s day one promises is being put to the test.
On Jan. 20, Biden convened new hires for a video conference call once he was done with Inauguration Day ceremonies. He told them he would be a stickler over a particular non-negotiable.
“I’m not joking when I say this: If you’re ever working with me and I hear you treat another with disrespect, talk down to someone, I promise you I will fire you on the spot,” Biden said. “On the spot. No if, ands, or buts.”
Yet on Friday, a documented incident of a White House staffer disrespecting a colleague resulted not in a firing, but a suspension closer to “if, and, or but” territory.
White House Deputy Press Secretary TJ Ducklo was suspended for one week without pay for threatening a Politico reporter.
“I will destroy you,” Ducklo, 32, told Politico Playbook co-author Tara Palmeri, according to Vanity Fair.
Palmeri was assigned to report on the romantic relationship between Ducklo and Alexi McCammond, a political reporter for Axios. McCammond, 26, had been covering the Biden campaign when she befriended and subsequently began dating Ducklo, which eventually led her to switch beats and call off plans to cover the White House.
In a phone call with Ducklo, Palmeri agreed to talk off the record before the staffer began to berate her, according to Vanity Fair, who first reported on the incident.
Beyond just discussing his relationship with McCammond, Ducklo made verbally abusive comments that many characterized as sexual harassment.
He reportedly told Palmeri she was only doing the story because she was “jealous” of McCammond. Going even further, Ducklo said Palmeri was jealous because an unidentified other man “wanted to f—” McCammond “and not you,” despite Palmeri never having any interactions with McCammond prior to reaching her for the story.
The vulgar and sexist nature of the threats quickly drew condemnation from prominent journalists, such as CNN anchor Jake Tapper.
“I’ve had verbal fights with press secretaries for more than 20 years and no one has ever spoken to me like this,” Tapper tweeted. “It’s misogyny and emblematic of the double standard women reporters face.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement Friday that Ducklo apologized to Palmeri in writing, and that her deputy is “the first to acknowledge this is not the standard of behavior set out by the President.”
Biden’s promise was also brought up by reporters during Psaki’s daily briefing.
When asked why Ducklo was only suspended once the Vanity Fair story was published and not weeks earlier — when Politico editors corresponded with the White House about the incident — Psaki deflected.
“You’re right. There were conversations that occurred with the reporter, as well as editors at Politico immediately after the conversation occurred,” Psaki said. “That was how we engaged, in a private manner. And that’s what we felt was appropriate at the time.”
Psaki said she did not discuss Ducklo’s punishment with Biden, but that his behavior was “unacceptable” and she made the decision to suspend him without pay after consulting with White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain.
“And that, in our view,” Psaki said of the suspension, “was an important step to send the message that we don’t find it acceptable.”
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