After vowing to tell the truth, McEnany immediately falls short

In this West Wing, whether McEnany was honest matters far less than whether the president was pleased with her dishonesty.
Image: Kayleigh McEnany
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany speaks during a press briefing at the White House on May 1, 2020.Evan Vucci / AP
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By Steve Benen

Those inclined to set the bar for praise very low may be tempted to give new White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany credit for doing something unexpected on Friday: she held a press briefing. It lasted about a half-hour and included actual Q&A with the White House press corps.

Under normal political conditions, no one would find such a development remarkable since it's traditionally been one of the principal duties of a White House press secretary to hold such briefings. But McEnany's predecessor, Stephanie Grisham, became the first modern presidential press secretary to literally never hold a briefing. Her predecessor, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, didn't show up in the briefing room for the last several months of her tenure, either.

So when McEnany appeared behind the podium on Friday, it marked a rather dramatic shift for Team Trump: it was the first briefing any press secretary had held in over a year. With this in mind, it may have seemed like an encouraging change of pace (likely motivated by the president's desire to show things "getting back to normal" during the deadly pandemic).

But looking past the oddity of the circumstances, and focusing instead on what Donald Trump's new, principal spokesperson actually had to say, it was an inauspicious start for the 32-year-old Republican operative.

Kayleigh McEnany, a political operative who was most recently the Trump campaign spokesperson, came to her first briefing armed with talking points on her boss's favorite targets, including crime statistics for immigrants, attacks on the World Health Organization, and reported misdeeds by the FBI against former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn. "I will never lie to you, you have my word on that," she told reporters in the White House briefing room Friday.

It quickly became obvious that this was an unwise declaration -- because over the course of the 32-minute briefing, McEnany said all sorts of things that didn't hold up well to scrutiny.

An Associated Press report noted, for example, that Friday's briefing "included several misstatements and mischaracterizations," including bogus claims surrounding disgraced former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and the claims of sexual misconduct a variety of women have made against the president. A Vox report fleshed out both points in even more detail.

A New York Times report noted that McEnany also misstated factual details about Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, while a CNN report noted she was wildly wrong about the findings of the investigation into the Russia scandal.

It was, of course, a bit jarring to see the new White House press secretary deliver a solemn vow about honesty, only to immediately start peddling a series of claims that were demonstrably wrong. But let's not miss the broader context: Kayleigh McEnany may have been speaking to the White House press corps, but the reporters probably weren't her target audience.

On the contrary, her boss was very likely watching from down the hall -- a fact that likely guided McEnany's comments, which included a reference to the television ratings for the president's press briefings, a point Trump has emphasized on multiple occasions.

In this West Wing, whether McEnany was honest matters far less than whether the president was pleased with her dishonesty.