The White House had not held a formal press briefing since March 2019

By Sean Neumann and Adam Carlson
May 01, 2020 03:36 PM
Kayleigh McEnany
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany on May 1.
| Credit: Evan Vucci/AP/Shutterstock

A few weeks after she stepped into the role of White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany held her first televised press briefing — and the first on-camera press conference by a press secretary in more than a year.

Though the briefings have historically been a common occurrence for past presidential administrations, under Donald Trump they were phased out by previous Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

That decision drew criticism from journalists who said the White House was not being accountable or transparent.

Sanders' successor, Stephanie Grisham, did not hold any press conferences from the White House briefing room. She said that President Trump was his own best spokesman and he repeatedly talked to reporters in other settings.

(In lieu of questions on TV, Grisham, Sanders and other White House spokespeople have preferred to connect with reporters behind the scenes.)

The Trump administration has seen historic turnover, including in the press office: McEnany is the fourth press secretary since the president took office. By contrast, George W. Bush had four in his eight years in office; Barack Obama had three.

McEnany's briefing appearance on Friday was her most high-profile yet since she was named press secretary in early April, after Grisham returned to the office of First Lady Melania Trump.

In addition to answering questions about the news of the day — such as developments around Trump's disgraced former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn — McEnany acknowledged the context of her first briefing after the year-long gap and previous controversies over misstatements and distortions by past Trump press secretaries.

"I will never lie to you, you have my word on that," she said.

She also said of the briefings, "We do plan to continue these."

McEnany had spoken with reporters earlier in the week in the White House briefing room, but she did not take the podium or appear on camera.

A fierce defender of Trump, the 32-year-old Harvard law school alumnae became a frequent guest on cable news talk shows in recent years — including a gig on CNN as a paid talking head during the 2016 election.

After McEnany rose her profile on CNN, she became the spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.

In 2019, she became a spokeswoman for Trump's re-election campaign before joining the White House this year — a full circle, in some ways, after interning with former President Bush's press team while she was a sophomore at Georgetown University.

Kayleigh McEnany
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany
| Credit: Win McNamee/Getty
Kayleigh McEnany
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany
| Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty

McEnany has not been without controversy: She previously promoted the racist conspiracy that President Obama was not born in America — "birtherism" that was famously encouraged by Trump.

"How I Met Your Brother -- Never mind, forgot he's still in that hut in Kenya. #ObamaTVShows," McEnany tweeted in 2012.

In another message in 2012, she wrote, "Birth certificates and college transcripts #ThingsThatEnrageDemocrats."

McEnany is married to minor league baseball player Sean Gilmartin, 29, and they have a 5-month-old daughter.

"I've always been someone who — I just like to speak my mind and I like to say what I believe," McEnany said on Georgetown's Fly on the Wall podcast in 2018. "Media gives you that freedom to — you don't feel like you have to say what someone wants to hear, you can say what you think and what you believe. And one of the reasons I think Donald Trump was so successful is taking that attribute of what I find in media to politics."

The revival of the White House press briefings comes one week after Trump's daily coronavirus briefings came under heavy fire when the president floated the idea that injections of disinfectants could potentially be used to kill the novel coronavirus.

Trump — who had been appearing nightly at the hours-long briefings, where he argued with reporters and alternately explained and defended his record — appeared at one more coronavirus briefing, last Friday, but did not take questions.

Those briefings have not been held since.

"I think when misinformation comes out or you just say something that pops in your head, it does send a wrong message," Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, said about Trump in an interview on ABC earlier this week.

McEnany will now take over for the administration's public messaging — though observers have long noted that probably the most important audience member for White House press team is the president himself.

As she wrapped up her roughly 30-minute press conference Friday so she could be with her daughter, McEnany seemed to acknowledge that.

She touted a Fox News town hall with Trump scheduled for Sunday and noted his coronavirus briefings were "highly rated."