White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was momentarily lost for words Thursday when news broke that Queen Elizabeth II had died at the age of 96.
Jean-Pierre had been in the middle of answering a question about the Inflation Reduction Act when reporters in the White House press briefing room told her the news.
“OK, all right, well, um …,” the press secretary began before pausing for several seconds.
“OK, so that’s been confirmed?” Jean-Pierre finally asked the press corps.
When told the news had been announced by the royal family, Jean-Pierre continued: “So, as I said earlier, our hearts and our thoughts go to the family members of the Queen, goes to the people of the United Kingdom.”
“I don’t want to get ahead of what the president is going to say. I want him to — for you all to hear from him first. And so I don’t want to get ahead of that,” she added.
“But, and I said this earlier, our relationship with the people of the United Kingdom — and this is something that the president has said himself — has grown stronger and stronger, and it is one of our — the United Kingdom is one of our closest allies, and again, our hearts go to the people of the United Kingdom and to the Queen and to her family,” Jean-Pierre concluded.
The White House canceled planned remarks by President Biden Thursday afternoon about updated COVID-19 vaccines before issuing a lengthy statement from the president and first lady.
“Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was more than a monarch. She defined an era,” the first couple said.
“In a world of constant change, she was a steadying presence and a source of comfort and pride for generations of Britons, including many who have never known their country without her,” the statement added. “An enduring admiration for Queen Elizabeth II united people across the Commonwealth. The seven decades of her history-making reign bore witness to an age of unprecedented human advancement and the forward march of human dignity.”
In a separate proclamation, the president ordered American flags at public buildings, military posts and ships at sea be flown at half-staff until sunset on the day of Elizabeth’s burial, which is expected to take place in 10 days. The flag over the White House was lowered shortly before 3:30 p.m.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) similarly ordered flags over the Capitol to half-staff as condolences poured in from members of both political parties.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) paid tribute to the late monarch on the floor of the chamber Thursday afternoon.
“Every step of the way, she was precisely the kind of leader the moment demanded. In times of hardship, she was both strong and comforting; in times of joy, she was gracious and dignified,” Schumer said.
“She was a rock, the living embodiment of the virtues that lie at the core of the nation she so proudly led. I dare say we will never see a leader quite like her for as long as we live.”
“The British people’s loss is the entire world’s loss,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement.
“The decades of Her Majesty’s reign saw an intense deepening of the special relationship and close bond between the United States and the United Kingdom,” McConnell added.
“The Queen who met sitting President Harry S. Truman as a 25-year-old princess and met a dozen more of our Presidents during her reign presided over an historic strengthening of our nations’ alliance that has changed the course of world history for the better.”
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) tweeted, “Queen Elizabeth was a leader on the world stage for 70 years.”
“She shepherded through profound eras of innovation, foreign alliances, and led the United Kingdom with an unwavering commitment to her people,” Maloney wrote. “She will go down in history as one of the most consequential monarchs.”
“Over the course of Her extraordinary historic 70-year reign and throughout Her entire life, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II embodied strength, grace, dignity, and unwavering devotion to the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth,” House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-NY) said in a statement.
“Every American is grateful for Her Majesty’s deep friendship to the United States of America throughout Her reign,” Stefanik added. “Her legacy of honorable service has left an indomitable impact on the entire world. May Her Majesty’s memory be a blessing to all across the globe mourning Her passing.”
Former Vice President Mike Pence wrote, “Queen Elizabeth’s incredible life of service and devotion to country as the longest serving Monarch in British history will be celebrated for generations to come.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said in a statement that the Queen was now in the “hands of a loving God.”
“When it comes to Queen Elizabeth II, the combination of longevity, impeccable character, and incredible leadership over seven decades of war and peace is likely never to be seen again,” Graham added. “Well done, Your Majesty – Rest in Peace.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said on Twitter that the Queen “led her people with grace, showing what servant-leadership means in principle and in practice.”
“Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II represented what it means to lead with conviction, selflessness, and faith in God and in her people,” McCarthy wrote, later adding: “I join the world in mourning her loss.”