White House press secretary, who never gave a news conference, is replaced
Stephanie Grisham was replaced Tuesday as White House press secretary after a rocky nine-month tenure that did not include a single on-the-record appearance in the White House briefing room.
Kayleigh McEnany, a spokeswoman for President Trump’s reelection campaign, will replace Grisham as part of a shake-up engineered by Trump’s new chief of staff, former U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, according to a senior official.
McEnany, 31, is a graduate of Harvard Law School who rose to prominence as a pro-Trump surrogate on CNN during the 2016 campaign. In recent months, she has served the same role for his 2020 campaign.
Trump, a former reality television star, has always wanted more people to defend him on TV. That is likely to be McEnany’s primary focus, according to two people familiar with recent conversations about revamping the White House communications team.
Appearing on Fox News on Feb. 25, McEnany ardently defended Trump’s initial response to the coronavirus outbreak, predicting — incorrectly — that “we will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here” as a result of the president’s actions.
“Isn’t that refreshing when contrasting it with the awful presidency of President Obama?” she said.
The pandemic has taken nearly 12,000 American lives so far, and the White House has warned that more than 100,000 people may die as a result of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.
Meadows is also bringing on Pentagon press secretary Alyssa Farah, who had the same job for Vice President Mike Pence, as well as his longtime aide Ben Williamson, who will serve as a communications advisor.
Grisham will return to her former job as chief of staff and press secretary for First Lady Melania Trump, according to an announcement from the first lady’s office.
“I continue to be honored to serve both the President and First Lady in the Administration,” Grisham said in a statement. “My replacements will be announced in the coming days and I will stay in the West Wing to help with a smooth transition for as long as needed.”
Grisham’s predecessors, Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, both held press briefings, but they essentially stopped under Grisham as Trump increasingly acted as his own spokesman.
Trump grew fond of talking to reporters on the South Lawn before climbing into a helicopter. Unable to stage political rallies since mid-March due to the pandemic, he has given daily televised briefings from the White House with members of the coronavirus task force.
As Trump has scrambled to formulate his response to the crisis, he has relied heavily on Jared Kushner, his senior advisor and son-in-law, as well as Hope Hicks, a trusted confidante who resigned from the White House in 2018 but returned last month.
Grisham played only a limited role in White House communications. She was not involved in planning the president’s widely criticized Oval Office address last month or in subsequent senior staff meetings about messaging during the crisis.
She had self-quarantined at home after she had contact with several aides to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who met with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort last month. Several members of Bolsonaro’s delegation later tested positive for COVID-19. Grisham’s own test came back negative.
As press secretary, Grisham went to great lengths to avoid engaging directly with reporters. She did on-camera interviews only with Fox News, typically driving across town to the network’s Capitol Hill studios instead of speaking on the White House North Lawn, where other reporters and cameras normally wait.
One reporter claimed to have Grisham’s support in recent days.
Chanel Rion, a correspondent for the small, ultra-conservative cable network One America News, attended Trump’s daily briefings after the White House Correspondents Assn., working in coordination with Grisham, sought to impose social distancing by limiting the number of reporters in the briefing room and setting up a rotating schedule for journalists to attend.
Rion claimed she attended the briefings even when she wasn’t scheduled for the rotation “as a guest” of Grisham and wasn’t subject to those rules. Grisham did not respond to news organizations seeking comment.
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