Sarah Huckabee Sanders On The Way Out
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is leaving office at the end of the month.
Late yesterday, it was announced that Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who has been White House Press Secretary since Sean Spicer left the position just seven months into the President’s first term in office, will be stepping down at the end of the month but she may not be disappearing from the political world entirely:
WASHINGTON — Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary who fiercely defended President Trump through one of the most tumultuous periods in American politics while presiding over the end of the iconic daily news briefing, will step down at the end of the month.
Mr. Trump announced her departure on Thursday on Twitter, the presidential tweet having supplanted the role that a White House press secretary played in previous administrations. He later praised her for her grit, her heart and her loyalty to him and his goals.
“We’ve been through a lot together. She’s tough and she’s good,” the president said as he brought Ms. Sanders onstage at an unrelated event in the East Room of the White House. “She’s a warrior,” he added, kissing her affectionately on the side of the head.
Ms. Sanders appeared emotional as she joined him unscheduled at the event, which was officially devoted to criminal justice policy, and she praised Mr. Trump and his team. “I’ve loved every minute, even the hard minutes,” she said. “I love the president. I love the team that I’ve had the opportunity to work for.”
Her resignation came on a typically head-spinning day in the Trump White House that would challenge any press secretary. The president was under fire for saying he would still accept derogatory information about a campaign opponent from Russia without necessarily calling the F.B.I. A government watchdog agency called on Mr. Trump to fire his counselor, Kellyanne Conway, for violating federal law on politics in the government workplace. And amid it all, Kim Kardashian West made an appearance with the president in the East Room.
While Ms. Sanders said she planned to spend more time with her three children, Mr. Trump urged her to run for governor of Arkansas, an ambition she has quietly nurtured for some time. Her father, Mike Huckabee, served as governor from 1996 to 2007. The current governor, Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, was just re-elected last year but cannot run again in 2022 because of term limits.
No successor was announced, but the next press secretary will take over just as Mr. Trump is heading into the thick of a re-election campaign that will determine the fate of his presidency. The job of communications director has been vacant since the departure of Bill Shine, who left in March.
Ms. Sanders’s confrontations with reporters escalated even beyond the norm. At one point, she suspended the White House pass of a CNN reporter, Jim Acosta, who angered the president, only to have a judge order it reinstated. The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, wrote in his report that Ms. Sanders had admitted it was untruewhen she claimed the White House had heard from “countless” agents who complained about James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director fired by Mr. Trump.
But Mr. Trump admired her, concluding that she had the right disposition for the job, one senior administration official said on Thursday. The president liked that Ms. Sanders could be hard-hitting with reporters without in his view getting excessively personal.
“Sarah was successful because she knew her North Star was the president,” said Chris Ruddy, a longtime friend of Mr. Trump’s. “Her job was to defend and explain, and she did that almost flawlessly.”
Ms. Sanders, 36, rose from a campaign spokeswoman to one of Mr. Trump’s top lieutenants in three years, navigating an era of toxic media relations that shocked even the most seasoned Washington veterans. She ascended to the role of press secretary in mid-2017 at a time of staff turmoil and public spats between her predecessor, Sean Spicer, and Anthony Scaramucci, who briefly served as communications director.
She became one of the most recognizable faces of the administration, a popular figure on the right who was cheered at Mr. Trump’s rallies. But she was vilified by the left, once asked to leave a restaurant and skewered by a comic at last year’s White House Correspondents’ Association dinner who mocked her “smokey eye” makeup and compared her to “an Uncle Tom” for “white women.”
Ms. Sanders never gave an inch, pushing back against her critics and the president’s while declining to repudiate Mr. Trump’s description of the news media as the “enemy of the people.” Viewing performances like these, Mr. Trump grew to trust Ms. Sanders, appreciating her public loyalty to him, even if legions of critics said it came at the cost of her credibility.
But in the past several months, as the press briefing atrophied and then disappeared, a Washington mystery emerged: What was the press secretary doing all day if she was not briefing the press?
The four hours or so that previous secretaries dedicated to preparing for and holding formal briefings each day was time that Ms. Sanders had available to stay constantly near Mr. Trump, even as reporters complained that they were not getting questions on the day’s news answered in a formal fashion.
But for Ms. Sanders, the answer also seemed to be living her best life. During the president’s recent overseas trips, Ms. Sanders and other White House aides posted behind-the-scenes updates to Instagram.
In Tokyo, she took a sushi-making class. In London, she posted a Buckingham Palace selfie with Louise Linton, the actress who is married to the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin. (In an undocumented interaction, she asked the Prince of Wales to sign her dinner menu. He did.) In Ireland, Ms. Sanders and her husband, Bryan, took a photo with a group of Trump loyalists at the president’s private golf club and visited a local pub.
“The best days for a press secretary are the days you don’t brief,” Ari Fleischer, who had the job during President George W. Bush’s administration, said in an interview before Ms. Sanders’s resignation was announced. “Sarah’s having a lot more best days than I ever had.”
There was no announcement of who might be succeeding her, although it is likely that for at least some period after Sanders leaves that her responsibilities will be taken over by Hogan Gidley, who serves as the Deputy Press Secretary. It’s unclear though if Gidley would be offered the position permanently and some have speculated that the position could end up going to someone else inside the White House or by someone previously associated with the Trump campaign.
As for Sanders herself, she isn’t ruling out a future run for office:
Two sources close to the White House told CNN Thursday that Sanders has considered running for public office herself. She has reportedly told colleagues that running for office in her home state would be a good move for her following her time in the White House.
Unfortunately for Sanders, the governor of Arkansas was just re-elected to another term during the 2018 midterms cycle. Republican Asa Hutchinson’s term is not up until 2023. Hutchinson easily took down his Democratic opponent last year, earning 65 percent of the vote.
But with her political connections and experience in campaigning, Sanders could be a force to be reckoned with if she ever decided to run for office.
If she didn’t want to wait until 2022, Sanders could probably find another position to run for back in her home state, such as Congress. If that happens, she would be following a path different from that laid down by other Press Secretaries over the past several decades. Typically, after departing the White House persons who have held this position have found themselves with several offers from consulting and lobbying firms in the D.C. area and elsewhere. Many have ended up being hired as political analysts by one of the broadcast or cable news networks. It’s likely, though, that Sanders would face many of the same issues that have made it difficult for Sean Spicer to find a new position, with many companies unwilling to hire someone associated with the Trump Administration. Sean Spicer apparently faced this issue after he left the White House and, other than writing a book he has not been heard or seen much at all. Indeed, Spicer’s Wikipedia entry makes no mention of what he may be doing for a living at this point.
The biggest legacy from Sanders’ time in office is likely to be what for now appears to be the death of the daily press briefing. While there were gaps between briefings under Sean Spicer, those gaps paled in comparison to what has happened under Sanders and it could change the relationship between the White House and the press for a considerable time to come.
As I noted on Monday, the last time there was a formal White House press briefing was three months ago and there’s no sign that this is going to change any time soon. In its place, reporters have been reduced to shouting questions at the President during pre-arranged press availabilities or while he is walking to (or from) Marine One outside the Oval Office. Beyond that, the White House has given most of its air time, predictably, to the friendly confines of Fox News Channel and appeared only occasionally on other networks. There is every reason to believe that this policy will continue under whoever succeeds Sanders in the position, although one wonders why this Administration needs a Press Secretary given the fact that Sanders rarely appeared to be actually doing that job.
The other legacy from her tenure will be the extent to which she became not just an apologist but a willing participant in the President’s lies, misstatements, and half-truths. It has always been the case that the Press Secretary has been an advocate for the Administration and its policies, and that has always included defending the President when he is under attack, but Sanders took that to an entirely new level by making literally everything she briefed on partisan and gleefully joining in the President’s war on the free press, something best epitomized by her absurd effort to strip CNN’s Jim Acosta of his press credentials, a move that she was required to back away from after CNN and other press organizations took the White House to court over what was clearly a completely illegitimate move. As a result of this and other actions, it is evident just from their daily interactions that the relationship between the White House and the White House Press Corps is at a lower point than it ever has been. Even worse than it was when Richard Nixon was President and Ron Ziegler was his Press Secretary. Of course, that’s exactly what this President wants so I suppose that means Sanders was a huge success.