WASHINGTON — White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham is leaving the job after eight months during which she held no regular press briefings of the sort that once defined the position.
Trump campaign spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany will replace Grisham as press secretary, and Pentagon spokeswoman Alyssa Farah will take over Grisham's other West Wing title as director of strategic communications, a senior administration official said Tuesday, April 7.
The official, who requested anonymity because the White House has not formally announced who will replace Grisham, also said that Ben Williamson, a senior aide to new White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, will be senior adviser for communications.
First lady Melania Trump announced Tuesday that Grisham would rejoin her staff as a full-time chief of staff and spokesperson, calling her "a mainstay and true leader in the Administration."
Grisham had retained her role as Melania Trump's spokeswoman throughout her tenure in the West Wing.
Grisham was not a fixture in the inner circle of advisers to President Donald Trump, as her predecessor Sarah Sanders had been, although White House officials have praised her loyalty.
The senior official said the communications overhaul is aimed at expanding a White Hose press office that is small by comparison to recent presidencies, so that it can better deal with communications needs during the coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic troubles, both of which come as Trump seeks reelection.
"There has to be a strategy going forward," the official said.
Trump also recently rehired longtime communications aide and strategist Hope Hicks, who White House officials have said has functioned as the de facto communications director for weeks.
Grisham's deputy Hogan Gidley will retain that role, the official said.
Grisham said in a statement that her replacements would be announced "in the coming days" and that she would remain in the West Wing "to help with a smooth transition for as long as needed."
Both Farah and McEnany, along with Williamson, have established relationships with White House and political reporters.
McEnany's frequent television appearances often include fierce defenses of Trump against criticism he complains is leveled unfairly in major news organizations.
On Feb. 25, during an interview with Fox News host Trish Regan, McEnany flatly stated that Trump would keep the coronavirus from American shores.
"We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here. We will not see terrorism come here," McEnany said. "And isn't it refreshing when contrasting it with the awful presidency of President Obama."
Grisham has been mostly absent from Trump's near-daily briefings about the novel coronavirus pandemic, most held in the same James S. Brady Press Briefing Room where past press secretaries held their own daily question and answer sessions.
Grisham entered voluntary quarantine after learning she had been exposed to two or more people who later tested positive for covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, during a March 7 dinner at Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club.
The White House announced on March 24 that she had tested negative and would return to work the following day.
Axios had reported last week that Meadows was exploring whether to replace Grisham, perhaps with Farah, who was previously the top spokeswoman for Vice President Mike Pence and who had earlier worked for Meadows when he was in Congress.
Grisham issued a statement to Axios that stopped short of denying any plans might be afoot to replace her.
"Sounds like more palace intrigue to me, but I've also been in quarantine. If true, how ironic that the press secretary would hear about being replaced in the press," she said.
Meadows is reportedly interested in restoring more regular briefings, something Trump has recently mused about in discussions with friends.
During her tenure, Grisham's public profile was defined mainly by her guest appearances on television. She was interviewed frequently on Fox News and by conservative media outlets, while her off-camera engagements with much of the traditional White House press corps grew increasingly contentious.
She was praised for throwing herself between North Korean guards and the small group of American reporters who accompanied Trump during his brief visit to the Demilitarized Zone between South Korea and North Korea last June.
By blocking for the press when Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Grisham made sure that American news cameras and reporters were able to witness Trump's interaction with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The Secret Service intervened as North Korean guards pushed and shoved American reporters to block them from entering the Inter-Korean House of Freedom south of the border, where Trump and Kim were meeting.
Grisham was bruised when she stepped into the chaotic scene, spreading her arms wide in front of the North Korean guards and giving U.S. media a pathway into the meeting room.
She rejected criticism that the White House had become less transparent and accountable with the lack of daily public interaction with reporters. Trump himself performed that role, Grisham said, pointing to the president's frequent impromptu news conferences during White House events or before boarding his helicopter.
A tweet Grisham sent March 31, replying to veteran White House reporter Steve Holland of Reuters, sums up her back seat approach.
"The most accessible @POTUS in modern history! Members of the media get to ask direct questions & the American people get to hear directly from @realDonaldTrump, @Mike_Pence & medical experts on the vital topic of #COVID19," she wrote.
The most accessible @POTUS in modern history! Members of the media get to ask direct questions & the American people get to hear directly from @realDonaldTrump, @Mike_Pence & medical experts on the vital topic of #COVID19. https://t.co/98iXeHQMsJ— Stephanie Grisham (@PressSec) April 1, 2020
Holland had observed that one of the Trump-led sessions had run more than two hours.
Grisham, who worked on Trump's 2016 campaign, was his third White House press secretary. Sanders replaced Sean Spicer, and discontinued the practice of daily or near-daily press briefings. She held them periodically; the last was in March 2019.
This article was written by Anne Gearan, a reporter for The Washington Post.