President Donald Trump's current press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, seems to be on her way out — despite her denials to the contrary.
Sanders is planning on leaving the White House by the end of this year, according to Politico. Bill Shine, the Fox News alum recently appointed to serve as deputy chief of staff for communications, has been reported to have asked a number of friends and other acquaintances about who they believe should replace Sanders if she steps down. Shine denied this story to Politico, saying that "I have not had a meeting or discussion about this" and praising Sanders as a "total team player."
Of course, a recent report from The New York Times suggests that Trump may not have as glowing a view about his press secretary as Shine claims to possess.
In recent days, Mr. Trump has asked people privately what they think of Ms. Sanders — an indication, they say, that the press-obsessed president has begun souring on her. He has also told her, before she heads out to the lectern in the briefing room, that he is “going to grade” her televised performances. (People who have heard Mr. Trump make the threat say it is in jest.)
Ms. Sanders has been under a more watchful eye from her boss since the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on April 27, when she remained in her seat during a scathing roasting from a comedian who called her a liar. Mr. Trump has told people in the West Wing that he thought Ms. Sanders should have walked out, as another White House official, Mercedes Schlapp, chose to do in a showy display.
During the White House Correspondents' Dinner in question, Sanders found herself on the receiving end of scathing comic commentary from Michelle Wolf. The most controversial of those jokes was when she quipped, "I actually really like Sarah. I think she’s very resourceful. Like she burns facts, and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smoky eye. Like maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s lies. It’s probably lies."
Much like Shine himself, the person who seems to be under closest consideration to replace Sanders is another Fox News alum, Heather Nauert. As Politico reports:
At the top of the list is Heather Nauert, the current State Department spokeswoman and former Fox News host. Nauert has impressed White House aides with her steady performances in Foggy Bottom. Multiple people close to the White House pointed out that Nauert remained in Trump’s good graces even when the president soured on former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Nauert’s Fox News pedigree, paired with her close relationship with Trump and her ability to stay on message and remain calm under pressure, makes her a “no-brainer” for the job, according to one person close to the White House. Nauert, who did not respond to a request for comment, has told associates that she’s unsure whether she would want the job, but people who know her believe she’d take it if asked.
In recent days, Sanders has made the news for parroting a number of Trump's controversial positions through her press secretary platform. On Monday, she announced that Trump is considering revoking the security clearances of a number of former intelligence officials who have criticized the president. As RealClearPolitics reported her telling reporters during the press conference:
Not only is the president looking to take away [former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency John] Brennan's security clearance, he's also looking into the clearances of [former FBI Director James] Comey, [former Director of National Intelligence] Clapper, [retired Gen. Michael] Hayden, [former National Security Adviser Susan] Rice, and [FBI agent Andrew] McCabe. The president is exploring the mechanisms to remove security clearance because they've politicized and in some cases monetized their public service and security clearances, making baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia or being influenced by Russia against the president is extremely inappropriate. And the fact that people with security clearances are making these baseless charges provides inappropriate legitimacy to accusations with zero evidence.
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Sanders also repeated another Trump line — namely, disparaging the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into potential collusion between Trump's campaign and the Russian government — during a Monday appearance on one of Trump's favorite television shows, "Fox & Friends."
"We’d all be a lot better off if we could get this out of the way, and that Congress and the special counsel could come to the same conclusion that the rest of America has: that this is a hoax and a waste of time," Sanders told her hosts.
Last week, Sanders also revealed to the world that Trump was seriously considering granting a request by Russian President Vladimir Putin to hand over a former American ambassador, Michael McFaul, to be persecuted by the dictatorial regime.
"He said it was an interesting idea. He didn’t commit to anything. He wants to work with his team and determine if there’s any validity that would be helpful to the process . . . It was an idea they threw out," Sanders said, according to Politico. Ironically, the State Department spokeswoman who batted back Sanders' statement was the same person who might wind up replacing her as press secretary, Heather Nauert.
"The fact that they want to question 11 American citizens, and the assertions that the Russian government is making about those American citizens — we do not stand by those assertions," Nauert told the press.
McFaul also expressed dismay at Trump's behavior toward Putin during an interview with Salon last week.
"What Putin was doing was assigning moral equivalency to a legitimate indictment with lots of evidence against several Russian military intelligence officers for violating American sovereignty in 2016 during the presidential elections, with a completely fabricated, cockamamie story invented by Putin," McFaul told Salon. "To even, for a moment, give any kind of dignity to what President Putin proposed was not in America's national interest, from my point of view."