Donald Trump has shaken up his communications operation by hiring Kayleigh McEnany, a controversial spokeswoman for his re-election campaign, as his fourth White House press secretary, according to multiple media reports.
She replaces Stephanie Grisham, who had only been in the position for nine months and was the first press secretary in modern times never to hold a formal briefing for reporters, the New York Times and other outlets said.
This and other personnel changes on the communications team – the latest in years of constant turnover in the Trump administration – were directed by the president’s new chief of staff, the former Republican congressman Mark Meadows.
McEnany, who turns 32 next week, will be unusually young to hold the press secretary position. She interned at the White House during the George W Bush administration, studied at Harvard law school, Georgetown and Oxford, and became a CNN contributor in 2016.
She then hosted a show on Trump’s Facebook page and worked as a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee. In 2018 she published a book, The New American Revolution: The Making of a Populist Movement, with a foreword by the Fox News host Sean Hannity.
McEnany joined Trump’s re-election campaign and has been an unabashed defender. Last August, in a combative interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo, she insisted: “He doesn’t lie. The press lies.”
And last October, appearing on Fox News, she said of Democrats’ impeachment investigation: “First, it was Russia. Now it’s Ukraine. There will always be something because this is a coup against a sitting president. Not an impeachment inquiry.”
With the Trump administration under fire for its inconsistent messaging around the coronavirus outbreak and its attempts to play down the threat of Covid-19, McEnany recently found herself in the spotlight.
On 25 February, McEnany told Fox News: “We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here, we will not see terrorism come here and isn’t it refreshing when contrasting it with the awful presidency of President Obama.”
In response to a reporter from CNN – a favourite target for Trump’s complaints about “fake news” – McEnany said she had been referring to travel restrictions Trump placed on China and added: “President Trump works to defeat the invisible enemy while you mislead the nation!”
A devout Christian who often wears a cross, McEnany hails from Plant City, Florida, which she describes as “the world’s strawberry capital”, and calls herself “a small-town girl”.
Grisham, 43, has kept a much lower profile than her predecessors, Sean Spicer and Sarah Sanders. She never gave a televised press briefing, though she did make frequent appearances on the conservative Fox News channel.
Grisham will return to the East Wing as Melania Trump’s chief of staff and spokeswoman.
In a statement issued by the first lady’s office, Grisham said: “I continue to be honored to serve both the president and first lady in the administration. My replacements will be announced in the coming days and I will stay in the West Wing to help with a smooth transition for as long as needed.”
Melania Trump said: “I am excited to welcome Stephanie back to the team in this new role. 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 replaces Lindsay Reynolds who, the statement said, resigned early this week to spend time with her family.
The Axios website reported last week that Meadows was seeking a new press secretary.
Grisham told Axios: “Sounds like more palace intrigue to me, but I’ve also been in quarantine. If true, how ironic that the press secretary would hear about being replaced in the press.”
On Tuesday CNN reported that Alyssa Farah, the current Pentagon spokeswoman, will become the White House director of strategic communications, and Ben Williamson, a Meadows staffer, will become senior communications adviser.
The new hires are likely to find their jobs challenging. As the ABC News chief White House correspondent, Jonathan Karl, told the Guardian recently: “We’ve had three White House press secretaries, we’ve had – I guess depends on how you count – three or four communications directors in the Trump White House, but in reality we’ve really only had one.
“Donald Trump has always been the press secretary, the spokesperson, the communications director for Donald Trump. That was true in 1994 when I first encountered him and it’s absolutely true in 2020.”