Trump shakes up White House communications team
President Trump is remaking his communications shop at a critical moment for his administration, choosing his campaign’s top spokeswoman as the new White House press secretary.
Kayleigh McEnany, a former Republican National Committee (RNC) spokeswoman and a regular presence on Fox News, is expected to take over for Stephanie Grisham just nine months after Grisham migrated from the East Wing to serve as White House press secretary.
McEnany’s new role as Trump’s fourth press secretary, which had not been formally announced as of Tuesday evening, is part of a broader overhaul of the White House communications team following the arrival of Mark Meadows, a five-term North Carolina congressman who started as Trump’s chief of staff a week ago.
Other new arrivals to the White House press shop, according to a source familiar, include Pentagon press secretary Alyssa Farah, a former spokeswoman for Vice President Pence, and Ben Williamson, who was a top aide to Meadows on Capitol Hill and moved with him to the White House.
The staffing changes come as the administration confronts the worst weeklong period yet of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States and as the president seeks to sell the American public on his handling of the crisis during a heated reelection bid.
A second source close to the administration described the personnel moves as positive for the White House, saying Grisham wasn’t well suited for the role and a change was needed.
Grisham, who did not hold a press briefing during her nine months on the job, is returning to the East Wing to serve as chief of staff and spokeswoman for first lady Melania Trump, effective immediately. Speculation on her future as White House press secretary began to swirl after Meadows became chief of staff.
Grisham took over for former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in June, becoming both press secretary and communications director while keeping her role as communications director for the first lady.
“Having one person preside over the East and West wings is always an untenable proposition,” said one former White House official, who noted that Meadows appeared to be making an early mark on the White House.
McEnany, a 31-year-old Harvard Law School graduate, was a CNN commentator and vocal defender of Trump before becoming an RNC spokeswoman in 2017. She was brought on as national press secretary for Trump’s reelection campaign early last year when a handful of key additions were made on the communications team.
“Kayleigh is someone who has been articulating and defending the president going back to the first campaign,” said GOP strategist Colin Reed, adding it would be difficult to find someone who better understands Trump’s policies or views.
One former White House official attributed the staff shake-up to Meadows, saying the new chief of staff wanted to install his own people. The former official also credited Meadows with having a more political mindset that likely influenced the decision to bring McEnany onboard.
McEnany has become one of Trump’s most recognizable campaign surrogates, appearing on television and at campaign rallies and other events. The decision to move her to the White House will place a renewed focus on the president’s bid for a second term at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has scrambled the 2020 campaign.
The outbreak has forced Trump to cancel his massive rallies, delayed the July Democratic National Convention and pushed campaign events online for both parties. The campaigns of Trump and his likely Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, have focused much of their rhetoric on the pandemic.
The press-staffing changes also come roughly a month after Hope Hicks, Trump’s onetime communications director, returned to the White House in a new role as a senior adviser working closely with Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
It’s unclear whether McEnany’s arrival at the White House may signal a return to daily briefings with the press secretary, which dwindled and disappeared under her three successors.
Meanwhile, the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room has taken on new life amid the coronavirus pandemic, with the president and his top advisers appearing almost every day to discuss developments and field reporters’ questions.
The White House communications shop has experienced frequent turnover and long been seen as understaffed, hindering its ability to project a coherent message. It has often lacked a full-time communications director, and Trump’s penchant for speaking off the cuff has at times undercut any effort to seek a disciplined approach.
Dave Lapan, a former press secretary for the Department of Homeland Security during Trump’s presidency, doubted that the new communications team would have much effect on Trump’s tendency to be his own spokesman.
“I don’t think it’ll change. He loves the limelight. He loves the attention. You go back and look at past practice where they will invite reporters into photo sprays and Cabinet meetings and he’ll just hold court,” said Lapan, who now serves as vice president of communications for the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington.
“I don’t see anybody in the administration, either in a communications role or senior leadership role, that can get the president to change his ways, even when it’s counterproductive,” he said.
Brett Samuels, Jonathan Easley and Olivia Beavers contributed reporting.
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