The White House is weighing whether to move Press Secretary Sean Spicer into a more senior role focused on strategy and bring in a new spokesman for the president, two people familiar with the discussions said.
Spicer has served as President Donald Trump’s press secretary since the beginning of the administration in January. He’s been the subject of speculation for months that he was on the verge of being fired. The discussions on reorganizing the White House communications operation are still preliminary and no final decision has been made, the people said.
The White House has had preliminary talks with candidates to fill the job of communications director. Mike Dubke, who had been in that job for less than three months, resigned in May.
Since then, Spicer has had to handle both briefings and overall communications strategy and has felt overtaxed. The president has both praised and castigated Spicer for his performances at the briefing room podium but has never told him he was in danger of being fired.
“We have sought input from many people as we look to expand our communications operation,” deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who herself has been rumored as a replacement for Spicer, said in a statement. “As he did in the beginning, Sean Spicer is managing both the communications and press office.”
In recent weeks, a number of Spicer’s question-and-answer sessions with reporters have been conducted off-camera, including on Monday. Earlier in the administration, the briefings were a major draw for political junkies, often broadcast live in their entirety on cable news networks.
His performances inspired a scathing parody by “Saturday Night Live,” with actress Melissa McCarthy delivering a gender-bending portrayal of the press secretary as a short, shrill buffoon.
Spicer often found himself caught between striving for the respect of a deeply skeptical White House press corps, who demanded that he be as clear and transparent as possible, and an erratic boss with a penchant for going off-message on Twitter without giving prior notice to his staff.
Spicer had stumbles of his own. He caused an uproar in April when he claimed that Adolf Hitler, who gassed millions of Jews, “didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.” Spicer was attempting to condemn Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons, and tried to clarify that he understood Hitler had brought Jews “into the Holocaust centers.” He later apologized.
Spicer has weathered intense speculation about his job security, which peaked after Trump’s May 9 firing of FBI Director James Comey. The announcement was made without any supporting communications plan, such as arranging surrogates who would defend the decision on cable television.
Spicer avoided on-the-record interviews about the firing for hours. The Washington Post published a story that said he “spent several minutes hidden in the bushes” outside the White House before agreeing to brief gathered reporters. Spicer later expressed frustration that other reporters who had observed the scene didn’t come to his defense and explain that he was talking with someone on a sidewalk hemmed by shrubbery, not literally hiding in bushes.
The next day, Spicer was absent from the briefing room podium, giving rise to more speculation about his job. He was fulfilling long-scheduled Navy reserve duty requirements, but much of the external blame for the Comey fiasco fell on him, for failing to have a strategic sense of the extent of the fallout.