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Press Secretary Sarah Sanders To Leave The White House

Jun 13, 2019
Originally published on June 13, 2019 10:51 pm

Updated at 5:10 p.m. ET

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders is leaving the White House, President Trump tweeted on Thursday.

"After 3 1/2 years, our wonderful Sarah Huckabee Sanders will be leaving the White House at the end of the month and going home to the Great State of Arkansas," Trump said. "She is a very special person with extraordinary talents, who has done an incredible job! I hope she decides to run for Governor of Arkansas - she would be fantastic. Sarah, thank you for a job well done!"

At a White House event Thursday, Sanders said her job as press secretary "has been the honor of a lifetime."

"I've loved every minute, even the hard minutes," she said.

As press secretary, Sanders was known for frequent clashes with frustrated reporters who often struggled to get answers to questions about the president's thinking on issues ranging from presidential pardoning authority to the role of the press.

She was often called upon to defend shifting and conflicting statements from Trump, and as a result, often faced questions about her own credibility.

After a number of tense dust-ups during briefings, the White House began to hold press conferences with Sanders less frequently.

It has currently been 94 days since Sanders briefed reporters in the White House briefing room. Instead, journalists now engage Sanders during impromptu question-and-answer sessions on the White House driveway.

The White House has defended the end of daily press briefings by arguing the practice is not necessary anymore, because President Trump frequently answers questions from reporters directly at various White House events.

Sanders faced scrutiny after the release of former special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. The report examined her role in shaping messaging to the public after former FBI chief James Comey was fired.

Shortly after Comey's ouster, Sanders told reporters that "countless members of the FBI" had reached out to the White House to express their displeasure with Comey. In her interview with the special counsel's office, she admitted that this was not true. She called the statement a "slip of the tongue."

Asked about the divergent statements once the report was out, Sanders said that she should not have used the word "countless" but that the sentiment was true.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders is leaving the Trump administration. Not surprisingly, news of her departure, like so many White House personnel announcements, came in the form of a tweet from the president late this afternoon. To talk more about Sarah Sanders' tenure as press secretary, we're joined by NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe. Hey there.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Hello.

KELLY: Why is Sanders leaving?

RASCOE: We don't know exactly, but there had been rumors for a while that she would be leaving. It's almost surprising that she stuck around this long. She's been in the job for almost two years. So it's not unusual to have a press secretary step down after that amount of time. And Sanders has been with the administration from the very beginning. It's a very high-stress role, and that takes a toll, being press secretary.

Sanders does have a young family which she often talks about. And she referenced her family when she spoke at this White House event today after President Trump announced that she's leaving. She said she hopes she can spend more time with her kids.

KELLY: Well, stay with this - that she was in the job for two years because this is not a White House known for a long tenures. I'm thinking back to Anthony Scaramucci, who lasted - what was it, like 10 days or something?

RASCOE: Yeah, a very short period of time.

KELLY: Yeah. I mean, how did Sanders manage to hang on for so long?

RASCOE: She was really able to kind of tap into that aggressive style that Trump really demands from his staff, that ability to go toe-to-toe with the media, throw insults around and really being unapologetic in standing resolutely behind whatever President Trump does. And unlike her predecessor, Sean Spicer, she was more quick on her feet behind the podium. And there were less kind of embarrassing gaffes for the administration.

Now, she absolutely angered her critics. And she was a major representative of the administration on some unpopular policies, including child separation. And she caught a lot of heat and anger for her actions. Last year, she was famously turned away from this Virginia restaurant that disagreed with her positions as press secretary.

KELLY: You said fewer embarrassing gaffes, Ayesha, but she managed to lose the trust of the White House press corps pretty early on. I mean, I'm thinking even back before she was officially named press secretary. Here is one moment. This was shortly after FBI Director James Comey was fired.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SARAH SANDERS: Well, I can speak to my own personal experience. I've heard from countless members of the FBI that are grateful and thankful for the president's decision.

KELLY: And, Ayesha, she had to walk that back and walk it back and walk it back. How did she handle that - her lack of credibility with reporters such as you?

RASCOE: Well, that's the thing. In many ways, she would just kind of double-down on these conflicting statements. And so I think that's why you saw a lot of tensions in these press briefings is that because even after the Mueller report came out, and it was pointed out that what she said about Comey was not true, she still claimed that her sentiment was correct, even if she shouldn't have said countless. So she really wasn't even backing down then.

And there were times where she talked about of the payment to adult film star or actress Stormy Daniels, that later - Trump would later admit that he did know about that she said he didn't. So there were a number of times where there were questions about the White House's commitment to the truth, and Sanders kind of played a role in that.

KELLY: Ninety-four days since Sanders held a press briefing, so we will see to what extent she is missed and who replaces her. That's NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe with news that White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders is leaving. Thanks, Ayesha.

RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.