Spicer’s rocky tenure ends abruptly
White House has struggled to attract an experienced Republican hand
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.
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.