Spicer’s move to give Trump direct route to pub­lic.

Press de­cry a lack of ac­cess

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAVE BOYER AND S.A. MILLER

White House press secretary Sean Spicer plans to move out of his role as the pres­i­dent’s daily spokesman, while Pres­i­dent Trump is sour­ing on of­ten-hos­tile tele­vised me­dia brief­ings and is lim­it­ing tra­di­tional press ac­cess in fa­vor of tak­ing his mes­sage to au­di­ences di­rectly.

Af­ter only five months on the job, the embattled Mr. Spicer is search­ing for a re­place­ment to take his place at the podium to con­duct press brief­ings and al­low him to shift into a less vis­i­ble role manag­ing White House com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

Mr. Spicer, whose com­bat­ive ex­changes with re­porters at daily brief­ings have be­come leg­endary, has been eas­ing out of the daily brief­ing job for a month. He has in­creas­ingly shared that duty with White House deputy press secretary Sarah San­ders.

But asked about his re­ported move, Mr. Spicer said from the press brief­ing podium Tues­day, “I’m right here.”

“It’s no se­cret we’ve had a cou­ple va­can­cies, in­clud­ing our com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor, who’s [been] gone for a while,” Mr. Spicer said, re­fer­ring to Michael Dubke, who re­signed in late May af­ter only three months on the job. “We’ve been meeting with po­ten­tial peo­ple that may be of ser­vice to this ad­min­is­tra­tion. I don’t think that should come as any sur­prise.”

He also said the White House is “al­ways look­ing for ways to do a bet­ter job of ar­tic­u­lat­ing the pres­i­dent’s mes­sage and his agenda, and we’ll con­tinue to have those dis­cus­sions in­ter­nally.”

“And when we have an an­nounce­ment of a per­son­nel na­ture, we’ll let you know,” he said.

It was his first tele­vised press brief­ing in eight days. How­ever long Mr. Spicer re­mains in the high-pres­sure job, Tues­day was his 152nd day as press secretary. Only three White House press sec­re­taries since 1960 have worked shorter stints: Jer­ald terHorst served 31 days un­der Pres­i­dent Ger­ald Ford, Ge­orge Stephanopolous served 138 days as de facto press secretary at the start of the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion, and Jake Siew­ert held the post for 112 days in the fi­nal months of the Clin­ton pres­i­dency.

Mr. Spicer has been car­ry­ing out dual roles as com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor and press secretary be­fore Mr. Dubke was hired in Fe­bru­ary — and again since he quit. He in­ter­viewed can­di­dates to re­place him at the podium, in­clud­ing con­ser­va­tive ra­dio host Laura In­gra­ham and Daily Mail ed­i­tor David Mar­tosko, Politico re­ported Mon­day.

Be­yond Mr. Spicer’s chang­ing role, there are other signs that Mr. Trump and his aides are fed up with cov­er­age by the White House press corps that is heavy on ques­tions about Rus­sia and the spe­cial coun­sel in­ves­ti­ga­tion into pos­si­ble col­lu­sion with the Trump cam­paign. Mr. Spicer and Ms. San­ders have scaled back the fre­quency and du­ra­tion of tele­vised press brief­ings.

Af­ter Mr. Trump openly sug­gested last month that it would be a “good idea” to stop press brief­ings al­to­gether, the White House also has shifted its me­dia strat­egy in re­cent weeks to in­clude Cab­i­net sec­re­taries who limit ques­tions to top­ics such as re­form of the Veter­ans Af­fairs Depart­ment.

“The White House press brief­ing on-cam­era has worn out its wel­come with the Trump White House,” said a Repub­li­can ally fa­mil­iar with the think­ing in the West Wing. “Trump un­der­stands that he’s not get­ting the value out of it. Be­cause of the crises and the in­abil­ity of the ad­min­is­tra­tion to get their mes­sage out through the tele­vised brief­ings, they de­cided to change it up in a va­ri­ety of ways.”

This Repub­li­can em­pha­sized that the White House is “not aban­don­ing the on-cam­era brief­ings.”

“But they are get­ting away from the ad­dic­tion that cable news TV had to feed­ing its au­di­ence with ‘gotcha’ ques­tions,” the source said, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity. “It’s not work­ing for the Trump folks. Why put his press secretary out there to take the ar­rows when it’s un­nec­es­sary?”

One White House re­porter sym­pa­thized with the White House’s move to limit tele­vised brief­ings, say­ing “there’s some ra­tio­nale for it on their part” to want to avoid “stum­bling or fric­tion in the brief­ing room.”

The prob­lem for the me­dia, this re­porter said, is that jour­nal­ists get hit with a “dou­ble-whammy” when there are fewer brief­ings and the pres­i­dent also doesn’t take ques­tions from re­porters at a given event.

To get his mes­sage out, Mr. Trump is con­tin­u­ing to com­mu­ni­cate with his mil­lions of fol­low­ers on Twit­ter and hold­ing oc­ca­sional cam­paign-style ral­lies in bat­tle­ground states. On Wed­nes­day he will travel to Iowa to visit a com­mu­nity col­lege and hold a rally.

Ms. San­ders re­jected the sug­ges­tion that the White House is re­strict­ing press ac­cess, say­ing the White House is mak­ing a more con­certed ef­fort not to dis­tract from Mr. Trump’s mes­sage when he holds pub­lic events. On Mon­day, when Mr. Spicer chose to give a 32-minute brief­ing off cam­era, Mr. Trump had a rou­tine sched­ule that in­cluded an Oval Of­fice meeting with the pres­i­dent of Panama and a ses­sion with CEOs of tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies.

“It’s less about lim­it­ing [press ac­cess] and more about high­light­ing these events,” she said. “No one is a bet­ter ad­vo­cate of the pres­i­dent’s poli­cies and agenda than the pres­i­dent him­self.”

The cur­tailed press ac­cess is rankling the White House press corps, par­tic­u­larly TV jour­nal­ists who are chaf­ing at the in­fre­quency of tele­vised brief­ings. Jim Acosta, a veteran White House re­porter for CNN, blasted the Trump com­mu­ni­ca­tions team on air this week, re­fer­ring to Mr. Spicer as “get­ting to a point … where he’s just kind of use­less.”

“If he can’t come out and an­swer the ques­tions, and they’re just not go­ing to do this on cam­era or au­dio, why are we even hav­ing these brief­ings or these gag­gles in the first place?” Mr. Acosta said.

On Twit­ter Mr. Acosta said, “Make no mis­take about what we are all wit­ness­ing. This is a WH that is stonewalling the news me­dia.”

The pres­i­dent in­fa­mously re­ferred to Mr. Acosta and CNN as “fake news” at a press con­fer­ence dur­ing the tran­si­tion when Mr. Acosta tried to ask a ques­tion about Rus­sia.

In the first weeks of his pres­i­dency, Mr. Trump showed an ea­ger­ness to en­gage with the me­dia, some­times invit­ing re­porters to ob­serve his meet­ings at the White House for 30 min­utes or more, far longer than the usual “photo-ops” held by his pre­de­ces­sor, Barack Obama.

But those lengthy ses­sions of pres­i­den­tial press ac­cess are rare now. And as re­porters ask re­peated ques­tions about Rus­sia or the fir­ing of FBI Di­rec­tor James B. Comey, the num­ber of tele­vised brief­ings has dwin­dled.

Asked again Tues­day whether Mr. Trump be­lieves that Rus­sia in­ter­fered in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion last year, Mr. Spicer replied, “I have not sat down and talked to him about that spe­cific thing. Ob­vi­ously, we’ve been deal­ing with a lot of other is­sues to­day.”

Mr. Acosta, whom Mr. Spicer didn’t call on for a ques­tion Tues­day, called out, “Didn’t he say it was ‘fake news,’ Sean?”

White House aides say Mr. Trump has granted the press gen­er­ous ac­cess, con­duct­ing many in­di­vid­ual in­ter­views with var­i­ous me­dia out­lets. Mr. Spicer said the daily press brief­ing is merely “one as­pect of what we do.”

“We’re here re­ally early in the morn­ing and re­ally late at night, avail­able to [an­swer] all of your ques­tions, whether it’s email or in per­son,” he told re­porters.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

White House press secretary Sean Spicer will leave his press secretary role, while Pres­i­dent Trump keeps de­cry­ing the me­dia.

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