The empty speaker podium in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, D.C.
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty

The first White House press secretary to have it easy during a scandal

Updated

Over the last half-century, there have been more than a few instances in which White House press secretaries, serving during presidential scandals, would’ve preferred to have very different jobs. During Watergate, Iran-Contra, the Clinton impeachment affair, and plenty of other controversies, the White House briefing room was filled with reporters demanding answers to tough questions, pushing press secretaries who often weren’t sure how to defend their boss in the Oval Office.

Stephanie Grisham has it quite a bit easier.

Much of the country might struggle to pick Grisham out of a lineup, probably because she hasn’t held any press briefings since succeeding Sarah Huckabee Sanders three months ago. That’s not an exaggeration: the current White House press secretary has held exactly zero briefings in the White House press briefing room.

Earlier this week, Grisham sat down with the hosts of Fox & Friends and explained why no one should expect the briefings to return anytime soon.

[Grisham said] the press briefings under Sean Spicer and Sanders had become “theater,” with reporters using the opportunity to ask questions of the government as a chance to become “famous.”

When Fox’s Brian Kilmeade asked Grisham if Trump “took it personal” when the press was combative with her predecessors, she confirmed it. Spicer and Sanders were not able to “get his message out there,” she said. “They weren’t being good to his people. And he doesn’t like that. He is very loyal to his people and he put a stop to it.”

For what it’s worth, there’s all kinds of evidence of Trump failing spectacularly to demonstrate loyalty toward “his people.” For that matter, it’s not the job of White House reporters to be “good” to presidential press secretaries.

But even putting that aside, as I suspect folks in the West Wing have noticed, there’s a major scandal brewing that’s likely to lead to the president’s impeachment. In theory, Stephanie Grisham would face a daily grilling, while simultaneously pushing a pro-Trump message, refuting accusations, and making every effort to shape coverage in ways that might benefit her boss.

None of that is happening. It’s … weird.

The press secretary did turn to Twitter yesterday in the hopes of discrediting some “myths” surrounding the president’s Ukraine scandal, but there were no follow-up questions because Grisham wasn’t willing to deliver a statement from her White House podium.

It led The New Yorker’s Susan Glasser to publish some tweets of her own, featuring questions the press secretary might consider answering:

“Dear [Grisham]: ‘do us a favor, though’. Care to comment? Also, in what capacity is Rudy Giuliani advising the President? Is he paying him? Using what funds? Is there a legal matter involving Trump and Ukraine and if no why is Giuliani involved? Why was US ambassador to Ukraine pushed out? What did President Trump mean when he told Ukraine’s President some things were going to happen to her?

“Did the President attach any conditions to meet with the President of Ukraine? What were they and how were they communicated? Why President Trump tell an Oval Office meeting he felt Ukraine was out to get him? Also why did President Trump personally ask to hold up Ukraine military aid, according to what OMB officials told other US officials? Why did the President tell VP Pence not to go to Zelensky’s Inauguration? When was the President told about the whistleblower and by whom?”

I’d encourage White House reporters to use Glasser’s list as a guide during the next briefing, though at this point, the earliest we should expect to see another press briefing is January 2021.