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A hiatus for the Kayleigh McEnany show? Coronavirus sidelines another potent Trump surrogate.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany talks to reporters Sunday outside the White House. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
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The sidelining of White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany due to a positive coronavirus test on Monday will eliminate one of President Trump’s most potent allies in the final weeks of his uphill reelection battle.

Since she joined the White House in April, McEnany’s press briefings have become electric, combative affairs that have resonated not just on live television but for days afterward as memes on social media. McEnany’s closing briefing comments — typically scripted — in which she denounces the press for some alleged bias or shortcoming have made her a heroine within conservative media and among Trump supporters, despite their uncertain or questionable veracity.

Even before she announced her positive diagnosis Monday, McEnany’s regular briefings appeared to be endangered. Reporters have gravitated to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where Trump has been staying since Friday, and have been pulling up stakes from the White House amid a troubling cluster of coronavirus infections there.

In the wake of McEnany’s self-disclosure about her diagnosis, reporters unleashed their own critique of the White House press staff’s casual attitude toward wearing masks and social distancing in the months since the pandemic began.

McEnany said she is asymptomatic but would isolate for an indeterminate period, meaning she will not be conducting briefings. It remains unclear whether they will continue without her. No other member of the White House press staff has conducted a televised briefing since Trump appointed McEnany press secretary.

CNN made McEnany into everything Trump would want in a press secretary

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Oct. 4 refused to say when President Trump last tested negative for the novel coronavirus. (Video: AP)

Some reporters expressed resentment of McEnany, a former spokeswoman for Trump’s reelection, as well as the White House staff in general for often failing to wear masks in the presence of reporters over the past few months. As recently as Sunday, McEnany went maskless during an informal question-and-answer session with journalists.

White House staffers “have willfully placed our health at risk for months,” said one reporter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because his employer doesn’t permit him to give interviews without authorization.

New York magazine correspondent Olivia Nuzzi tweeted a similar sentiment: “Kayleigh McEnany directly endangered the lives of those around her, including members of the press.”

CBS News White House correspondent Ben Tracy tweeted: “I felt safer reporting in North Korea than I currently do reporting at The White House. This is just crazy.”

In the wake of Friday’s news that Trump had tested positive for the novel coronavirus and was being treated at Walter Reed in Bethesda, Md., three White House journalists also received positive diagnoses. They include New York Times reporter Michael Shear and two others who have not been publicly identified.

The White House Correspondents’ Association said in a statement Monday that it wasn’t aware of any new cases among journalists, although it said some are awaiting test results. “We wish Kayleigh, the president and everyone else struggling with the virus a swift recovery,” its statement said.

McEnany attended the same Rose Garden ceremony on Sept. 26 as several other prominent figures who have since announced that they have tested positive, including Trump, first lady Melania Trump, Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), and former New Jersey governor Chris Christie (R). Many of those attending the event, which formally introduced Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett, did not wear masks.

Upon taking over as press secretary, McEnany revived the long-dormant regular White House press briefings; her predecessor, Stephanie Grisham, didn’t brief the press once during her eight-month term.

McEnany, who rose to prominence as a Trump-friendly pundit on CNN and in other cable TV interviews, often used her briefings to hammer reporters about their questions and coverage of the president, reinforcing Trump’s messaging about news events and developments. Her polite but forceful manner made her a hero among Trump’s most avid supporters.

A signature of McEnany’s briefings were her closing comments, in which she essentially read a scripted monologue attacking some element of reporting on Trump. McEnany followed each mini-speech by leaving the lectern and taking no further questions.

The political theater of McEnany’s scripted walk-offs

In late June, for example, when asked about Trump’s denial of reports that Russian operatives had offered bounties to Taliban members to kill American troops in Afghanistan, McEnany didn’t address the substance of the stories; instead, she went after reporting about Trump and Russia in general. “It is inexcusable, the failed Russia reporting of the New York Times,” she said. “And I think it’s time that the New York Times, and also The Washington Post, hand back their Pulitzers” for reporting on the topic.

Reporters began clearing out of the White House’s small briefing room and the workspaces behind it on the recommendation of the correspondents association Friday. McEnany held informal gaggles on the South and North lawns of the complex over the weekend, but it was unclear how these would be handled in the wake of her positive test.

The correspondents association told its members to continue the regimen instituted among White House journalists in March. “We strongly encourage our members to continue following [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance on mask-wearing and distancing — especially when at the White House — and urge journalists to seek testing if they were potentially exposed,” it said in its statement Monday.

McEnany pledged during her first briefing as press secretary not to lie, but she has frequently skirted direct questions or given nonresponsive answers.

During a briefing following the first presidential debate between Trump and former vice president Joe Biden last week, she was asked multiple times by Fox News reporter John Roberts why the president didn’t clearly and unambiguously denounce white supremacy when given the opportunity during the debate. McEnany repeatedly pointed to past comments while not addressing the president’s debate comments.

Jeremy Barr and Elahe Izadi contributed to this report.