Spicer’s rocky ten­ure ends abruptly

White House has strug­gled to at­tract an ex­pe­ri­enced Repub­li­can hand

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - KEN THOMAS AND JILL COLVIN

White House press sec­re­tary Sean Spicer abruptly re­signed Fri­day, end­ing a rocky six-month ten­ure that made his news brief­ings de­fend­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump must-see tele­vi­sion. He said Trump’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions team “could ben­e­fit from a clean slate” as the White House seeks to steady op­er­a­tions amid the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tions and ahead of a health-care show­down.

Spicer quit in protest over the hir­ing of a new White House com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor, New York fi­nancier An­thony Scara­mucci, ob­ject­ing to what Spicer con­sid­ered his lack of qual­i­fi­ca­tions as well as the di­rec­tion of the press op­er­a­tion, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the sit­u­a­tion. Scara­mucci, a pol­ished tele­vi­sion com­men­ta­tor and Har­vard Law grad­u­ate, quickly took cen­tre stage at a brief­ing, par­ry­ing ques­tions from re­porters and com­mend­ing Trump in a 37minute charm of­fen­sive.

As his first act on the job, Scara­mucci an­nounced that Sarah Huck­abee San­ders would be the new press sec­re­tary. She had been Spicer’s deputy.

The shakeup on the com­mu­ni­ca­tions team comes as Trump is suf­fer­ing from dis­mal ap­proval rat­ings and strug­gling to ad­vance his agenda. The pres­i­dent has been frus­trated by all the at­ten­tion de­voted to in­ves­ti­ga­tions of al­le­ga­tions of his elec­tion cam­paign’s con­nec­tions to Rus­sia.

Trump, who watches the press brief­ings closely and be­lieves he is his own best spokesper­son, in a state­ment saluted Spicer’s “great rat­ings” on tele­vi­sion and said he was “grate­ful for Sean’s work on be­half of my ad­min­is­tra­tion and the Amer­i­can peo­ple.”

Scara­mucci, in an ap­pear­ance af­ter his ap­point­ment was made of­fi­cial, flashed the tele­vi­sion skills that Trump has long val­ued: He praised Trump’s po­lit­i­cal in­stincts and com­pet­i­tive­ness, cracked a few self-dep­re­cat­ing jokes and bat­tled with re­porters who cat­e­go­rized the West Wing as dys­func­tional, say­ing “there is a dis­con­nect” be­tween the me­dia and the way the pub­lic sees the pres­i­dent.

“The pres­i­dent has re­ally good karma and the world turns back to him,” Scara­mucci said.

Spicer said dur­ing a brief phone con­ver­sa­tion with The As­so­ci­ated Press that he felt it would be best for Scara­mucci to build his own op­er­a­tion “and chart a new way for­ward.”

He tweeted that it had been an “hon­our” and “priv­i­lege” to serve Trump and that he would re­main in his post through Au­gust.

His de­ci­sion to quit took ad­vis­ers in­side and out­side the White House by sur­prise, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple with knowl­edge of the de­ci­sion. They spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause they were not au­tho­rized to dis­cuss the per­son­nel mat­ter pub­licly.

Spicer’s daily press brief­ings had be­come must-watch tele­vi­sion un­til re­cent weeks when he took on a more be­hind-the-scenes role. San­ders has largely taken over the brief­ings, turn­ing them into of­f­cam­era events.

The White House has been look­ing for a new com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor for sev­eral weeks, but strug­gled to at­tract an ex­pe­ri­enced Repub­li­can hand.

Scara­mucci be­gan se­ri­ously talk­ing to the White House about the po­si­tion this week, and Trump for­mally of­fered him the job Fri­day morn­ing.

A per­son with knowl­edge of the de­ci­sion said Trump has been im­pressed by Scara­mucci’s de­fence of the White House on tele­vi­sion and his han­dling of a re­cent in­ci­dent with CNN. The ca­ble chan­nel re­tracted a story about Scara­mucci and fired three jour­nal­ists.

A shift in tone and style was im­me­di­ate. A long­time tele­vi­sion com­men­ta­tor, Scara­mucci ex­hib­ited a smooth and pol­ished de­liv­ery. Un­like Spicer, who had an at-times com­bat­ive re­la­tion­ship with the press, Scara­mucci was warm and more mea­sured as he took ques­tions.

He did not com­mit to putting the brief­ings back on cam­era full-time. He also of­fered a level of sup­port to some of Trump’s most out­landish state­ments, in­clud­ing his un­proven claim that mil­lions of il­le­gal votes were cast in the 2016 elec­tion.

“If the pres­i­dent says it … there’s prob­a­bly some level of truth to that,” he said.

He also made clear that he would con­tinue the West Wing’s plan to push back against me­dia re­ports it doesn’t like — and would do a bet­ter job of sell­ing its vic­to­ries.

“The pres­i­dent is a win­ner. And we’re go­ing to do a lot of win­ning,” said Scara­mucci, who blew a kiss to the press corps be­fore de­part­ing.

Spicer had long sought the strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions job for him­self and had been man­ag­ing that role along with his press sec­re­tary du­ties for nearly two months.

Spicer had spent sev­eral years lead­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions at the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee be­fore help­ing Trump’s cam­paign in the gen­eral elec­tion. He is close to White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, the for­mer RNC chair, and sev­eral of the lower-rank­ing aides in the White House com­mu­ni­ca­tions shop.

PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Sarah Huck­abee San­ders, who has been named White House press sec­re­tary, watches as the new com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor, An­thony Scara­mucci blows a kiss dur­ing a press brief­ing in the White House in Wash­ing­ton on Fri­day.

Sean Spicer

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