WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Tuesday is expected to name campaign aide Kayleigh McEnany as the White House press secretary, replacing Stephanie Grisham, who will return to work for first lady Melania Trump, according to people familiar with the discussions.
The reshuffling comes days after Trump's new chief of staff, former Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., began work amid a scramble within the administration to respond to the coronavirus crisis and increasing criticism that it was not prepared to combat the outbreak.
Both Meadows and McEnany are seasoned at defending the president on television and are expected to add to Trump's public defense of his coronavirus response, which will now be the center of his re-election pitch. The number of Americans who approve of Trump's handling of the pandemic has been declining in recent weeks as the death toll has climbed and health care workers have struggled to get necessary supplies.
McEnany, who is currently a press secretary for Trump’s re-election campaign, has been a fierce defender of the president on cable television, often making controversial statements like saying in February that "we will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here." Before joining the campaign, McEnany was a CNN contributor and spokesperson for the Republican National Committee.
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Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale and RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel pushed for McEnany to be named White House press secretary, according to a person familiar with the deliberations. With McEnany inside the White House, it will give the campaign a more direct link to coordinate messaging, the person said.
Hope Hicks, a former White House communication director and one of Trump's most trusted advisers, recently returned to the White House to help with his re-election campaign.
The news of McEnany's hiring was first reported by The New York Times.
McEnany will be Trump's fourth press secretary.
Pentagon spokesperson Alyssa Farah is also expected to join the White House as director of strategic communications, said a senior White House official confirmed. Farah was previously a congressional aide to Meadows and a spokeswoman for the vice president.
Ben Williamson, who arrived at the White House as a top aide to Meadows, will become senior communications adviser, the official said.
The role of White House press secretary was once a high-profile job that helped shape the president's narrative, but became a background role under Grisham, who rarely appeared on television and never formally briefed the press from the White House during her nine months in the job.
Since mid-March, Trump has appeared almost daily from the White House briefing room and delivered lengthy updates from the White House coronavirus task force. Grisham has not participated in these briefings.
Grisham will take on a new role as chief of staff and spokesperson for Melania Trump.
Grisham came to the White House from the Trump campaign, where she worked as a press wrangler with the traveling press. She joined the administration as a deputy press secretary, but quickly moved over in March 2017 to the East Wing where she was named director of communications for the first lady.
Grisham moved into the role of White House press secretary in June 2019 after Sarah Sanders left the administration.
“I am excited to welcome Stephanie back to the team in this new role,” the first lady said in a statement. “She has been a mainstay and true leader in the administration from even before day one, and I know she will excel as chief of staff."
The last White House briefing was over a year ago, on March 11, 2019 — three months before Grisham took over the role as press secretary from Sanders.
"I continue to be honored to serve both the president and first lady in the administration,” Grisham said in the statement. “My replacements will be announced in the coming days, and I will stay in the West Wing to help with a smooth transition for as long as needed.”