She was smooth, calm and even a little combative in defending a range of presidential policies, programs and statements. In short, she was what Trump might have been hoping for when he picked the 32-year-old former CNN pundit and reelection campaign spokeswoman to be his chief press representative.
McEnany said many of the things that press secretaries have traditionally said, such as that she “didn’t want to get ahead” of the president on this or that announcement, that she wouldn’t “get into details” about this or that specific thing, and that she wouldn’t entertain “hypothetical” questions.
She also vowed, in what amounts to a kind of Press Secretary’s Pledge, to tell the truth.
“I will never lie to you,” she replied quickly when a reporter asked if she would commit not to. “You have my word on that.”
Sarah Sanders, the second of Trump’s four press secretaries, was the last to brief the media, making her final trip to the podium on March 11, 2019, 3½ months before she left the job. Trump, who speaks to reporters frequently, once explained in a tweet that she abstained because “the press covers her so rudely & inaccurately. . . . I told her not to bother, the word gets out anyway!”
Her replacement, Stephanie Grisham, didn’t appear at all during her nine months on the job. Which means the appearance by Grisham’s replacement, McEnany, in the briefing room on Friday was the first by a press secretary in 417 days, quite possibly the longest stretch of non-briefings in the history of presidential briefings.
Of course, in the pandemic era, the old ritual of daily press briefings has been replaced anyway by the near-daily coronavirus task force briefings, led by Trump and Vice President Pence, some lasting more than two hours. And now McEnany is on the podium, too.
It’s not clear why McEnany broke the briefing drought now, although her knack for reinforcing the president’s talking points in an election year might be part of it.
On Friday, McEnany employed none of the snark that Sanders sometimes utilized against reporters, and displayed less of the emotive range than the sometimes excitable Sean Spicer, Trump’s first press secretary. Her most aggressive response was in reaction to a question about whether the sexual-assault allegations against former vice president Joe Biden were any more or less credible than the multiple allegations lodged against Trump in 2016.
“The president has swiftly denied all of these allegations that were raised four years ago,” she said, not mentioning that another woman, E. Jean Carroll, accused him of rape last summer. “He has always told the truth on these issues. He’s denied them immediately and bringing up issues . . . from four years ago that were asked and answered when the American people had their say in the matter when they elected President Trump as president of the United States. Leave it to the media to really take an issue about the former vice president and turn it on the president.”
Despite her pledge not to lie, McEnany didn’t say anything about not being misleading. But she gave a misleading statement when she brought up, without any prompting, the FBI’s investigation of Flynn and misrepresenting the contents of newly released FBI notes on the case to suggest he was railroaded.
McEnany, a Harvard-trained lawyer, got her start as a booker for “The Mike Huckabee Show” on Fox News, hosted by the former Arkansas governor and father of Sarah Sanders.
She came into her own during the 2016 campaign when CNN hired her to speak in behalf of Trump. She has been doing so, in one form or another, ever since. In 2017, she had a brief stint as the host of videos on Trump’s Facebook page, which blossomed into a job as spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.
Her next job, as press secretary for Trump’s reelection campaign, set her up for the White House press secretary’s position just as the 2020 campaign is about to hit its full stride.
Until Friday, McEnany was barely visible in her new role, appearing only on Fox News, while seeming to act more as a press critic than press secretary — using her official Twitter account, @presssec, as a platform to amplify, or to add to, Trump’s many grievances against the media.
On Sunday, for example, McEnany complained about the position of her quote in a three-week-old Washington Post story that detailed the Trump administration’s delayed response to the pandemic. “The @washingtonpost, unsurprisingly, buried my quote 22 paragraphs down in their story,” she tweeted. “This is to be expected from a paper that repeatedly publishes false headlines about @realDonaldTrump by a 25-to-1 margin.”
She has also twice pushed back on unfavorable stories by claiming that reporters had taken something out of context.
Last Friday, a day after Trump drew widespread criticism for musing about whether disinfectants and “very powerful light” could be injected into the body to treat covid-19, McEnany released this statement: “Leave it to the media to irresponsibly take President Trump out of context and run with negative headlines,” she said in a statement after Trump was widely mocked.
A few hours later, though, Trump said that he was merely being “sarcastic.”
She made a similar claim after Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a Post interview that a second wave of coronavirus infections coupled with a new flu season could flare up in the fall, a message out of sync with the administration’s more upbeat framing.
“The mainstream media has been taking him out of context, as they so often do with Trump Administration officials,” she told Fox News.
Redfield, though, later said his quotes were accurately reported.