After a typically turbulent week, including both the shooting of Congressman Steve Scalise and the President’s outside counsel hiring his own outside counsel, the administration threw itself into a hole and refused to show its face. Sean Spicer was nowhere to be found.
Monday he showed up – but gave us a gaggle that was neither on camera nor available on audio. Spicer said on days when the president speaks, no one else needs to do so, as a means of explaining the administration’s bunker mentality. The president, Spicer assured us, is quite capable of speaking for himself.
Truer words were never spoken by any press secretary at any time in our history.
But the fact is the President isn’t taking many questions and only offering answers via his “official” tweets that beg further explanation. He has tweeted out information about “The Deep State,” democratic obstruction, alluded to taping Comey, and infamously this: “I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt.”
Of course, the President told us he made up his mind to fire Comey before anyone else recommended to do it – and he said he did it because of the Russia investigation. Pick which facts you wish to believe. The president certainly does.
Twice Monday, reporters asked Spicer why the White House has retreated from its daily on-camera briefings. Spicer dodged, so the second time around I asked point blank if on days when he was going to go without camera and microphone if he would be “ever so kind” as to invite the President down to “step up here and answer some questions from us on that day?”
“I’ll be sure to share your sentiments with him,” Spicer said.
Shortly after the gaggle, the rumor again began racing around the room that Spicer would be leaving us. These rumors have been rampant since Spicer made his infamous Hitler gaffe a few months ago and have since circulated more or less weekly.
Spicer seemed to have gone gone from being the fair-haired whipping boy to out-and-out pariah. Now, it appears Spicer’s fortunes are again on the rise. John Roberts felt sure enough about the latest rumor to say live on FOX News – while the rest of us tweeted it out – that Spicer is going to be bumped upstairs in a role that will see him overseeing “the entire White House communications operation.” The promotion well be at “the level of a Deputy Chief of Staff,” Roberts reported.
Then moments after that broadcast Sarah Huckabee Sanders released a statement; “As he did in the beginning, Sean Spicer is managing both the communications and press office.” This of course explained nothing other than to affirm Spicer has indeed taken over the duty of Communications director since Michael Dubke quit – a duty he did indeed have at the beginning of the administration, before the president hired Dubke.
Whatever spin the White House is putting on its latest moves, the public has had only two on-camera briefings in the last week, including the one Spicer himself gave earlier today. The President has reduced his public appearances. When he does appear before the press corps it has been with the heads of state from other countries and the President has limited himself to less than three questions from the press.
Meanwhile, we’ve been reduced to shouting pertinent questions about his administration at pool spray events where pools reporters and photographers get to see the president for a few minutes of “grip and grin” after which they are hurriedly ushered out of the room.
As the Russia investigation has intensified and rumors of resignation, the administration has drawn itself into a shell rather nicely. Monday, Spicer said very few things that weren’t scripted or in notes directly in front of him. Twice, he seemed to stumble as he searched for the appropriate notes on questions about Russia so he could stick to the script.
Reporters who’ve covered multiple administrations say they are “constantly amazed,” at the Trump administration. Five members of the president’s commission on HIV/AIDS quit Monday. Spicer, fielding only a single question, offered no meaningful rebuttal to the allegation the president doesn’t care about healthcare for those suffering from AIDS.
Jim Acosta from CNN, speaking with Wolf Blitzer on television Monday told his anchor even “A Russian reporter” got in a question during the press gaggle – but not CNN. “The administration is at war with CNN,” another reporter said. Acosta appears nonplussed by the freeze out.
Make no mistake about what we are all witnessing. This is a WH that is stonewalling the news media. Hiding behind no camera/no audio gaggles— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) June 19, 2017
The point is, according to most everyone in the briefing, the administration is at war with most of the media. The administration has already spelled out what it thinks of most news outlets that print, publish or broadcast news with which it disagrees: Fake News. Spicer has been the one man trying to keep the doors open–bringing in cabinet members to speak to the press, using Skype for reporters out of town and generally trying to keep people informed even as the president undercuts him and everyone else in the administration with continuous and often contradictory tweets.
So now what? Rumors have Laura Ingraham – the Ann Coulter wannabe right-wing radio talk show host pegged as a successor, but no one is saying for sure whether or not there will even be a successor to Spicer. And, even as Spicer takes on additional duties, he won’t be gone. Sanders and others in the press office say he’ll still be around at least once a week behind the familiar White House podium even if it is off-camera and off-audio. Why? Because, according to Charles Blow of the New York Times, the administration will have a hard time finding someone to willingly lie from the infamous podium.
Or as one staffer said late Monday in very hushed tones over a shot of bourbon; “Who would want that job? Not me. Not anybody really.”
As disillusioned and eager to leave the stage as Spicer is, he still hopes to do something good from inside the administration.
And as one staffer noted, “We’ve become pretty good at getting the press to cover stuff that doesn’t matter. We’re talking press secretary and suddenly no one is talking Russia and the emolument clause anymore.”
And then the staffer shrugged. “Makes you wonder what’s next – doesn’t it?”