WASHINGTON (NYTIMES/REUTERS) - Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, resigned on Friday (July 21) after telling President Donald Trump he vehemently disagreed with his appointment of Anthony Scaramucci, a New York financier, as his new communications director.
After offering Scaramucci the job on Friday morning, Trump asked Spicer to stay on as press secretary, reporting to Scaramucci.
But Spicer, 45, rejected the offer, expressing his belief that Scaramucci’s hiring would add to the confusion and uncertainty engulfing the White House, according to two people with direct knowledge of the exchange.
Spicer’s top deputy, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, will serve as press secretary instead.
The long-anticipated resignation rattled an administration reeling from the most trying two-week stretch of Trump’s presidency. The President’s health care effort foundered in the Senate last week, and next week promises no respite, with his son Donald Trump Jr. and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, due to testify before Congress on questions about their contacts with Russia.
If the moves amounted to a kind of organisational reset, it was not part of a pivot or grand redesign.
The President, according to a dozen people familiar with the situation, meant to upgrade, not overhaul, his existing staff with the addition of a smooth-talking, Long Island-bred former hedge fund manager who is currently the senior vice-president at the Export-Import Bank.
The President believes his communications staff needs to defend him better – and Scaramucci even suggested his role would be to unshackle an already unfettered president.
“I think there’s been, at times, a disconnect between the way we see the President and how much we love the President and the way some of you perhaps see the President,” Scaramucci said during a news conference.
“I certainly see the American people probably see the President the way I do,” he added, contradicting a raft of recent polls showing Trump’s approval rating below 40 per cent nationally. “But we want to get that message out there.”
In a statement on Friday night, Trump said, “Anthony is a person I have great respect for.”
Spicer, a former spokesman and strategist for the Republican National Committee, attained a notoriety unusual for a presidential spokesman, spawning a caricature on “Saturday Night Live”.
Trump expressed gratitude for Spicer’s service in a statement and predicted that
Spicer will succeed in the future. “Just look at his great television ratings,” he said.
If Trump, who refers to the media as “fake news", wants his staff to use a more conciliatory approach with journalists, Scaramucci may be implementing such a shift - for now.
The Wall Street financier and Republican fundraiser walked into the White House briefing room on Friday and immediately did what Spicer did not do on his first day in January: engage, in a friendly manner, with reporters.
Wearing a blue tie and an American flag pin on a dark suit, Scaramucci bantered with correspondents, pledged to be transparent and even made respectful remarks about CNN, the cable network with which Trump and Spicer have sparred repeatedly.
He made fun of himself, joking about his short stature and apologising to Trump from the podium for having called the New York businessman a hack politician in 2015. “He brings it up every 15 seconds, all right?” Scaramucci said to laughter, referring to the President.
“I should have never said that about him. So, Mr. President, if you’re listening, I personally apologise for the 50th time for saying that.”
Trump was probably listening. Reporters peppered Scaramucci with questions on press-related issues that have dogged the relationship between the Trump presidency and the journalists that cover it. Did he support having briefings televised? “I obviously am committed to being transparent because I’m standing here. But I’d like to talk that over with the President,” he said.
He noted that CNN had apologised when it reported something false about him and that he had accepted the apology. “There feels like there’s a little bit of media bias, and so what we hope we can do is de-escalate that and turn that around. And let’s let the message from the President get out there to the American people,” he said.
Spicer’s debut at the White House podium in January featured a long scolding of reporters for their portrayal of Trump’s Inauguration Day crowd numbers. Asked on Friday whether he agreed with Trump’s contention, for which there is no evidence, that 3 million people voted illegally in the 2016 election, Scaramucci answered carefully. “So if the President says it, let me do more research on it, but my guess is that there’s probably some level of truth to that,” he said. “I think what we have found sometimes the President says stuff, some of you guys in the media think it’s not true or it isn’t true, and it turns out it’s closer to the truth than people think.”