If there is one thing you can say for Sarah Sanders’s soon-to-be-ending tenure as White House press secretary, it’s that she lasted longer than most. In a White House where staff cycle in and out at record speed and where she might have one of the most thankless jobs in the whole place — trying to speak for a president who lacks rhetorical consistency and has very little regard for facts — she stuck around for two years.
To do that, of course, she had to stop effectively serving as a traditional press secretary.
Here are three things she’ll be remembered for.
1. The end of the daily press briefing
The main job of the White House press secretary has for years been briefing reporters every day the president doesn’t hold any kind of media availability. This allows for reporters covering the White House to at least have a chance at someone responding on timely issues.
But Sanders has all but scrapped the briefing. After a slow but steady scaling back of the number of briefings in 2018, they have been virtually nonexistent in 2019. The last one she held was more than three months ago — March 11 — and it didn’t even last 15 minutes.
The lack of briefings is even more remarkable when you consider how little the White House press office performs the other main part of its traditional responsibilities: to work with reporters as they write their stories, and to beat back unhelpful ones. Often, this White House doesn’t even try to explain the administration’s actions when reporters come calling.
2. False statements — including in the Mueller report
Sanders’s name will forever be etched into history as the White House press secretary who admitted to investigators that she made false statements to the country. According to the Mueller report, she conceded to special counsel investigators that her statements after Trump’s firing of James B. Comey as FBI director were essentially made up.
The report says “she also recalled that her statement in a separate press interview that rank-and-file FBI agents had lost confidence in Comey was a comment she made ‘in the heat of the moment’ that was not founded on anything.”
Of course, this is hardly the only time we know she made something up or offered a false denial. She said Trump never encouraged or promoted violence, when he did; she said multiple news outlets had reported that Barack Obama ordered wiretaps of Trump using a shoddy foreign report; and she on multiple occasions denied allegations about Trump’s hush-money payments that turned out not to be true. Explaining the last one, she said, “We give the very best information that we have at the time.”
Okay, but you speak for the president. He needs to trust you enough to tell you the truth and have you spin it for him. Even as Sanders is supposedly a trusted adviser, she often didn’t seem to actually know how to speak for Trump.
3. The White House correspondents’ dinner shake-up
If Sanders ended the daily press briefing, she might have also played a role in ending the press corps dinner as we knew it: an annual comedic roasting of the current administration. After comedian Michelle Wolf took on Sanders in very personal terms in 2018 — alluding to her makeup and comparing her to a gruff softball coach — some reporters argued the bit went too far. White House critics, in turn, complained that the reporters were being too cozy with the White House.
The result was that the White House Correspondents’ Association scrapped the comedy portion of the dinner. With most of the jokes being told by left-leaning comedians, it was decided that it wasn’t a good look. And that might have been for the best.