Stephanie Grisham Departs As White House Press Secretary

Stephanie Grisham
AP Images

UPDATED: White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham is leaving her role and is joining the East Wing to serve as chief of staff and spokesperson First Lady Melania Trump.

Kayleigh McEnany, national press secretary for Donald Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign, will succeed Grisham, The New York Times and CNN reported.

The move is the first major shakeup at the White House after Mark Meadows took over duties as President Donald Trump’s chief of staff.

Grisham served nine months in the role, but never held a traditional press briefing, which was once a daily ritual among her predecessors.

She instead suggested that the briefings were not imperative because Trump frequently took questions from reporters — far more than previous recent presidents.

“I don’t think any reporter would choose to speak to me when they can hear directly from the president,” she told Deadline last month via email.

The president has also taken on the role of daily briefer himself during the coronavirus crisis, with nightly press conferences that sometimes stretch to two hours. Grisham also has not been a prominent public figure during the crisis, as Vice President Mike Pence’s staff has taken the lead role in communications on the pandemic task force.

Before she took her role as White House press secretary, Grisham had served as spokesperson for the First Lady. Melania Trump said in a statement that she “has been a mainstay and true leader in the Administration from even before day one, and I know she will excel as Chief of Staff.” Grisham will succeed Lindsay Reynolds, who resigned earlier this week.

Grisham also served as White House communications director, and two other appointments were expected to fill that void. Alyssa Farah, who is the current spokeswoman for the Department of Defense, will take on the role of director of strategic communications, while Ben Williamson, a member of Meadows’ congressional staff, will be senior communications adviser, according to CNN.

Grisham was the third press secretary since Trump took office, following Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders. She took on a lower profile that they did, and generally kept her on-camera media appearances to Fox News. According to Media Matters, the progressive watchdog group, as of Match 11, Grisham had made 44 appearances on Fox News and Fox Business since she took over the post, compared to one appearance on Good Morning America and CBS This Morning. She also appeared on on smaller outlets including One America News Network, and also on commentator Eric Bolling’s show on Sinclair Broadcast Group.

She defended her approach, telling Deadline that her staff is available “24/7 through office drop ins, emails, phone calls and texts.” She also said that during the coronavirus crisis, Americans are hearing from the president, the Vice President and members of the task force. “Again, I don’t have the ego to think that I would do a better job than that group of people,” she said in an email.

She was a staunch defender of the president on social media, but she did have a viral moment early in her tenure in her efforts to gain press access in a foreign country. She scuffled with North Korean officials who were trying to block press access to a meeting between Trump and Kim Jong Un.

But her lack of press briefings triggered an outcry among journalists and others. In January, authors Stephen King and Don Winslow even offered to contribute a total of $200,000 to charity if she held a one-hour briefing in the West Wing.

Grisham’s successor is likely to face the same pressure to hold briefings that she did, particularly after the coronavirus crisis passes. The White House Correspondents’ Association has argued that the daily briefings are essential for conveying information to the public, even as the president routinely answers questions.

McEnany, a former CNN political commentator who was among his staunchest defenders on the network during the 2016 campaign, later served as spokesperson for the Republican National Committee before joining the reelection campaign.

But just as Trump, in rallies and interviews, downplayed the threat of coronavirus in February and early March, she also claimed that it would not be a major disruption. In a Feb. 25 appearance on Trish Regan’s Fox Business show, McEnany said, “This president will always put America first. He will always protect American citizens. We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here. We will not see terrorism come here, and isn’t that refreshing when contrasting it with the awful presidency of Barack Obama?”

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