The new White House press secretary's unfortunate history

We don't know whether McEnany will ever appear behind the podium in the White House briefing room, but if she does, she'll bring some baggage with her.
Image: Kayleigh McEnany
Kayleigh McEnany, national press secretary for the Donald Trump 2020 presidential campaign, speaks at a "Keep America Great" campaign rally on Jan. 9, 2020 in Toledo, Ohio.Scott W. Grau / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images file
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By Steve Benen

In the modern political era, the White House press secretary has been a rather important position. After all, those who hold the office maintain a high profile, serve as the principal spokesperson for the sitting American president, and speak to the public and the press about a wide range of issue of global importance.

But during Donald Trump's presidency, the responsibilities of the press secretary have obviously changed, to the point that his third press secretary -- Stephanie Grisham, who was replaced yesterday -- literally never held a briefing during her tenure that lasted over nine months.

It's not yet clear whether her successor, Kayleigh McEnany, will handle her responsibilities differently, but it's probably fair to say she enters the office facing some questions about her credibility -- especially when it comes to the pandemic. A Washington Post analysis explained yesterday:

She said President Trump was preventing the virus from reaching the United States, that Democrats were rooting for the virus and the resulting economic hardship, and that former vice president Joe Biden was using the virus as an excuse to cancel campaign events -- shortly before Trump canceled his own. The most-circulated clip is of McEnany appearing on Fox Business Network in late February saying, "We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here," and adding, "Isn't it refreshing when contrasting it with the awful presidency of President Obama?"

The same report added that McEnany was among the Republican voices who, in the recent past, "joined in an aggressive attempt to portray the coronavirus as part of a political attempt to take Trump down -- a claim that was popular at the time but has become less popular among Trump allies as the severity of the outbreak has become clear."

Ideally, White House officials would consider a record like this disqualifying when weighing candidates for the president's fourth press secretary. But on Team Trump, where "traditional qualifications" are routinely overlooked in personnel matters, McEnany's unfortunate virus-related rhetoric didn't stop her from getting the job.

What's more, this isn't the only area of concern. Media Matters put together a report highlighting many of McEnany's most cringe-worthy media appearances, and it wasn't a short list. Vox highlighted some related Obama-era examples of McEnany dabbling in birther conspiracy theories, too.

It's hard to say whether McEnany will ever actually appear behind the podium in the White House briefing room, but if she does, she'll bring some baggage with her.

Postscript: As became clear over the course of yesterday afternoon, McEnany wasn't the only new addition to Trump's team. New White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows will also be joined by Ben Williamson, a senior aide to the former North Carolina congressman, who will serve as senior adviser for communications.