- Associated Press - Thursday, February 19, 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) - State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki will become President Barack Obama’s new communications director, filling a key slot as Obama embarks on the final two years of his presidency, White House officials said Thursday.

She replaces veteran Democratic media strategist Jennifer Palmieri, who is leaving the White House to join Hillary Rodham Clinton’s likely presidential campaign. Psaki will step into her new role April 1.

In a statement, Obama embraced Palmieri as a “good friend” and praised her as a “brilliant and effective communications director and trusted adviser.”

“I’d say Jen is irreplaceable - if Jen Psaki hadn’t agreed to step in,” Obama said. “I fully trust Jen - and I am thrilled she’s agreed to come back to the White House as communications director.”

Psaki will be returning to the White House where she helped craft Obama’s message during the president’s first term. She has been part of Obama’s team since 2007, when she was traveling press secretary during his first presidential campaign.

The move allows Obama to replace a senior adviser with a familiar aide who is already steeped in issues confronting the White House.

Psaki has become a frequent face of the State Department as spokeswoman for Secretary of State John Kerry, often traveling the world.

Despite occasional contentious exchanges in on-camera briefings, Psaki was well-regarded by the State Department press corps. And although she came from the Obama camp, she was seen as close to Kerry and accurate in conveying his policy positions.

A White House official said Psaki informed Obama and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough that she is expecting a baby in July. The official said Obama and McDonough made a commitment to Psaki to find flexible ways to make her new post work.

Psaki will serve as an assistant to the president, the same status as White House press secretary Josh Earnest.

Psaki will rejoin deputy communications director Amy Brundage, with whom she worked during the 2008 campaign and in 2010 when they undertook the media strategy for Obama’s economic agenda.

Obama’s communications team has been focused on pushing the domestic policy ideas he spelled out in his State of the Union speech. But Psaki would no doubt also be involved in helping shape the White House message on the myriad international issues confronting the president, including Ukraine, Israel, Iran and the Islamic State militants.

Palmieri is part of a White House exodus of top advisers. John Podesta, who served as counselor to the president, also stepped aside to take a senior role in Clinton’s expected campaign. And senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer, an Obama veteran from his first presidential campaign, has announced he is leaving.

Obama replaced Podesta with Brian Deese, a veteran White House aide and a deputy director in his budget office. With Deese and Psaki, Obama is signaling that he wants to rely on known insiders to advise him during what he has called the “fourth quarter” of his presidency.

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