Incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus on Wednesday floated a shake-up of how the West Wing will handle the White House press corps under Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump takes shot at new GOP candidate in Ohio over Cleveland nickname GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default MORE.
Priebus raised the possibility of changing the format of the daily press briefing and rearranging the seating chart inside the James Brady Press Briefing Room.
“The traditions, while some of them are great, I think it’s time to revisit a lot of these things that have been done in the White House,” Priebus said during an interview with conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt.
“And I can assure you that change is going to happen,” he added.
Those moves could heighten tensions with members of the news media, who have sparred with Trump and his team over press access since the early days of the 2016 campaign.
Priebus’ comments come amid speculation that Trump is close to choosing his White House press secretary, who would be the administration’s public face and could have a say in any changes.
The new spokesperson would almost certainly deal with significant blowback from media outlets over the changes, if they are made.
Priebus’ suggestions would mark a notable shift in White House-media relations.
Currently, the seating chart is determined by the White House Correspondents’ Association, and not West Wing staff.
The changes could possibly affect media organizations that Trump sparred with during the campaign.
Outlets such as The Washington Post, BuzzFeed, Politico and The Huffington Post were denied credentials at certain points during the campaign. All have a briefing room seat or share one with another news organization.
Priebus framed the potential change as a return to the traditions of the George W. Bush administration.
“You know, this was the first front row assigned seat issue, as I understand it, started in the Obama administration,” he told Hewitt. “In the Bush administration, you just took a seat, and I guess there were a couple of people that have had reserved spots.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest disputed Priebus’ description, saying the lack of staff control over the seating chart “certainly predates President Obama’s presence in the Oval Office.”
He recommended Trump's team "collect and familiarize yourself with some basic facts" before proposing changes.
White House Correspondents’ Association President Jeff Mason said briefing room seats have been assigned since they were installed more than three decades ago.
“There was a notable factual inaccuracy in Mr. Priebus's remarks: News organizations have had assigned seats in the briefing room since those seats were installed in 1981,” Mason, a White House correspondent for Reuters, said in a statement. “That was not an Obama-era innovation as Mr. Priebus suggested."
Mason said Democratic and GOP administrations have asked the group to dole out seating assignments to avoid the "potential appearance of playing favorites if they assigned the seats themselves.”
He offered to meet with the incoming Trump administration to “address questions and concerns on both sides about exactly this sort of issue.”
Regular White House press briefings have been conducted by presidential staff in various formats dating back to the Wilson administration.
Priebus said Trump’s team is “looking at things like the daily White House briefing from the press secretary.”
“I mean, there’s a lot of different ways that things can be done,” he said.
If the changes do occur, they would follow a long line of norms governing media coverage broken by Trump.
Trump has not allowed press to travel on his plane, as previous nominees and presidents-elect have done and he has still not adopted a protective press pool.
Trump’s last press conference was on July 27. He scrapped a news conference scheduled for Thursday to discuss how he will handle his business conflicts.
As a candidate, Trump also floated the possibility of “opening up” libel laws, though he appeared to back off that move after the campaign.
The president-elect has routinely singled out individual reporters and outlets, accusing them of unfair coverage.
“Just watched @NBCNightlyNews - So biased, inaccurate and bad, point after point. Just can't get much worse, although @CNN is right up there!” he tweeted Sunday.
Both outlets have front-row seats in the briefing room.
Updated: 2:41 p.m.
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