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Trump shakes up press team as White House deals with virus

Trump shakes up press team as White House deals with virus
In this March 25, 2020, provided by the Department of Defense, Pentagon Press Secretary Alyssa Farah briefs the press on the department's COVID-19 response efforts, at the Pentagon in Washington. (AP Photo)
WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump shook up his communications team on Tuesday, replacing his press secretary and adding new staffers as he grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.

Stephanie Grisham, who had held the titles of press secretary and White House communications director since last June, is out after never holding a formal press briefing. She will be rejoining the first lady’s office in a new role as Melania Trump's chief of staff.
Kayleigh McEnany, a top Trump campaign spokeswoman, will take over as Trump’s fourth press secretary.

Also heading to the White House: Pentagon spokeswoman Alyssa Farah. She will lead strategic communications, according to a senior administration official familiar with the moves who spoke on condition of anonymity because the decisions had not been formally announced.
The shakeup comes as the president is facing the biggest crisis of his administration, with the coronavirus spreading across the country. The virus has killed more than 12,000 people in the U.S. and fundamentally transformed American life while plunging the economy into what is expected to be a major recession.

Grisham, who succeeded Sarah Sanders and Sean Spicer, was arguably the nation’s least visible press secretary in modern history, having never held a press briefing during her nine months on the job.

While she made occasional appearances on the Fox News Channel, she preferred to tape her interviews in a studio to avoid having to speak to reporters who gather on the White House driveway to interview officials after they appear on TV via cameras set up outside the executive mansion.

Her departure was not a surprise. Grisham had been largely sidelined since the start of the pandemic, with the press team for Vice President Mike Pence, the head of the coronavirus task force, taking the lead. In addition, Mark Meadows, the president's new chief of staff, has been working to bring on his own team, including senior adviser Ben Williamson.

The role of the press secretary has been a particularly challenging one under the media-obsessed Trump, who believes himself to be his best spokesman, communications director and strategist, and demands absolute loyalty.

Over the last several weeks, Trump has revived the tradition of the daily press briefing, personally taking the stage in the White House briefing room to try to put a positive spin on the federal government’s response to the pandemic.

Trump has a highly volatile relationship with the press, slamming unflattering stories as “fake news” while closely following his coverage. Briefings earlier in the administration often turned combative, especially under Spicer. He began his tenure with a much-panned briefing in which he claimed the president's inauguration crowds had been the largest ever, which was untrue.

McEnany was already a regular defender of the president on television. Farah has deep ties to the White House, having served as press secretary to Pence and as Meadows' communications director. -- AP