President Donald Trump is considering scaling back White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s public role, according to several officials familiar with the president’s thinking, as Trump also weighs a broader shakeup of his communications shop in the wake of several scandals.
The press secretary, who has turned into a household name over the past five months and garnered sky-high television ratings for his daily press briefings, has also drawn the ire of the president. He is no longer expected to do a daily, on-camera briefing after Trump’s foreign trip, the officials said.
The briefings have become one of the most dreaded parts of the president’s day, and Trump has told allies and aides he doesn’t want Spicer, who has developed a belligerent persona from behind the podium, publicly defending and explaining the message anymore, officials added.
Plagued by crises that are engulfing his administration, Trump, in recent weeks, has been increasingly pointing his finger at the communications department to explain the administration’s failings. But that frustration isn’t new — in February, during an interview with “Fox & Friends,” Trump gave himself an A+ for effort and a low grade for communicating.
"In terms of messaging, I would give myself a ‘C’ or a ‘C-plus,’" he said. "My messaging isn’t good.”
The communications team often serves as a convenient scapegoat for a president, not just Trump. But Spicer has sometimes added to a White House steeped in controversy. In April, he suggested that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had committed crimes worse than those of Adolf Hitler because, as Spicer told reporters, Hitler had never used chemical weapons on his own people. He later apologized for the comment.
One senior White House official said deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders will likely appear at the podium more often going forward, while Spicer will keep a senior role in the administration. Another official said to expect fewer on-camera briefings in general — something that the administration has been toying with since Trump entered office.
For his part, Spicer back is December said publicly that he would like to spend less time behind the podium and instead have a rotating cast of characters available to conduct the daily briefing. And traditionally, administrations work a deputy press secretary into the rotation more quickly than Trump’s White House has done.
Spicer, the former Republican National Committee strategist who is a close ally of chief of staff Reince Priebus, has defended the president through multiple scandals, only to have Trump contradict him, as the president did in the wake of FBI Director James Comey’s ouster.
Last week, Spicer was notably absent for two of the most consequential briefings of Trump’s early presidency, while he served his Naval Reserve duty late last week. Instead, Sanders was given the opportunity for a trial run, as she fielded questions for two days about Trump’s decision to fire Comey.
And Spicer is not the only target of Trump’s frustrations with the White House press operation. The president has generally grumbled about his communications team’s response to a recent flurry of self-inflicted scandals, which include not only Comey’s ouster, but also Trump’s alleged leak of classified information to Russian officials and reports that Trump pressured Comey to shut down a probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
A White House official and an outside adviser said Trump on Monday also blasted communications director Mike Dubke because of the stream of negative headlines about his presidency.
But others caution that Trump has not yet made up his mind entirely about Spicer and other changes to the press operation. Since taking office, the president has considered multiple staff changes that have yet to materialize.
Still, "the status quo won’t continue," one official said. And conversations about how to revamp Spicer’s role, as well as the rest of the communications shop, have intensified in the past week.
Two officials said Trump doesn’t want to throw Spicer overboard and has also told advisers he thinks the press secretary is treated unfairly.
Officials said Spicer is expected to stay in the White House, "but have less exposure," in the words of one official.
These officials also said rumors of Kim Guilfolye, the Fox News anchor, joining the administration and taking over Spicer’s spot at the podium were overblown and "not real.”
Spicer declined to comment.