President Donald Trump on Tuesday named Stephanie Grisham — until now spokeswoman for his wife Melania — the chief White House press secretary, taking over an office that has seen sharply deteriorating relations with the media.
Trump said Grisham would do a ‘fantastic job.’
‘She actually gets along with the media very well, as you know. A lot of the folks in the media like her very much,’ he said.
This would mark a change of temperature in the White House, where Trump has labelled journalists the ‘enemy of the people’ and the outgoing spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders, all but abandoned formal press briefings.
The appointment, first announced by Melania Trump on Twitter, also gives Grisham the more strategic post of White House communications director.
‘She has been with us since 2015 - @POTUS & I can think of no better person to serve the Administration & our country,’ Melania Trump tweeted.
According to Trump, ‘a lot of people wanted the job, a lot of people.’
Grisham is a Trump loyalist, having joined his presidential campaign back in 2015 and winning a reputation as a tough operator in the first lady’s office.
Melania Trump’s White House activities — principally a campaign for helping children that she calls #Be Best — receive relatively little media attention.
But Grisham revealed the behind-the-scenes power of the first lady during an unusual spat last November that effectively saw Melania Trump ordering deputy national security advisor Mira Ricardel to be fired.
The dispute reportedly began when Ricardel was angered by seating arrangements on the government plane taking Melania Trump on a four-country tour of Africa, her first big solo foreign trip.
In a highly unusual move, Grisham issued a statement on Ricardel afterward that said: ‘It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that she no longer deserves the honour of serving in this White House.’
Shortly after, Ricardel found herself being shuffled to another role.
Sanders leaves her job under a considerable shadow.
Trump announced her exit in a tweet earlier this month and praised her as a ‘warrior.’
Sharp, sometimes acid-tongued, Sanders has not been prone to the almost comic slip-ups that embarrassed predecessors in the job, such as short-lived Trump spokesman Anthony Scaramucci.
But she has earned a reputation for bruising clashes with journalists whom she finds
over-critical — often echoing her boss’s attacks on unfavourable coverage as ‘fake news.’
Pressed during one particularly combative exchange with reporters to distance herself from Trump’s ‘enemy of the people’ jibes, Sanders refused.
Sanders was also seen as responsible for the demise of the formal daily briefing — practically an institution under previous presidents.
Grisham has been supportive of Sanders, reacting to her departure by saying she would ‘miss her sincere love of country & great sense of humor at the @WhiteHouse.’
Whether Grisham will revive the long established norms of the White House press office is an open question.
Her boss disdains what he calls the mainstream media and says he prefers to engage with the public via Twitter and other social media — effectively making himself his own press secretary.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from North America