White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders appears to be on her way out. Why and when is still to be determined, but CBS reported late Wednesday that she and her deputy, Raj Shah, will both be departing their jobs at the west wing.
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Citing “sources inside the White House and close to the administration,” Jacqueline Alemany of CBS News writes that Sanders “has told friends that she plans to leave the administration at the end of the year.”
“Shah is also considering his exit,” the report continues, “but he has not yet settled on an exact date.”
Sanders took to Twitter to push back against CBS soon after the report was published – although she didn’t deny the claim.
Does @CBSNews know something I don’t about my plans and my future? I was at my daughter’s year-end Kindergarten event and they ran a story about my “plans to leave the WH” without even talking to me. I love my job and am honored to work for @POTUS
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) June 14, 2018
“Does @CBSNews know something I don’t about my plans and my future?” her tweet begins. Then she proceeded to Hide behind her children as she often does. “I was at my daughter’s year-end Kindergarten event and they ran a story about my “plans to leave the WH” without even talking to me. I love my job and am honored to work for @POTUS.”
Very bold and brash by the Press Secretary, but crucially not even close to an outright denial.
Fox News, for its part, corroborated CBS News’ reporting. “Both Sanders and Shah are weighing future options, Fox News has learned, which may or may not include their departures from the White House.”
Far from exceptional, these high-profile departures would be par for the course for the Trump administration. Whether the result of a mutually-agreed-upon exit, a coerced resignation, or an outright termination, the president has lost more staffers, cabinet members, and senior advisors than any other Commander-in-Chief at this point in his presidency.
CBS puts the exodus more charitably:
Over the course of the Trump administration, the White House has consolidated its workforce, eliminating jobs and assigning multiple portfolios of responsibility to individual staffers. Some positions have never been filled. Despite the smaller number of positions, the record-setting turnover rate has not slowed.
The Brookings Institute has been tracking the staff departures at the White House closely, and they calculate turnover at a whopping 51% of senior staff. Even more eye opening, the total number of what they call “A-Team” departures from the Trump administration over just 17 months is fast approaching the total number of departures that Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and George H. W. Bush endured over their entire first terms.
The question posed at the beginning of this article still stands: Why? Why so many, and so quickly and frequently and by every conceivable method?
Part of the problem is that this president, more than nearly all previous presidents, has been fond of hiring outsiders – outsiders in both the geographic sense (i.e. not from Washington, D.C.) and outsiders in terms of their professional experience (i.e. no experience running a government agency, or even experience in the subject matter assigned).
It fits with both his promise to “drain the swamp” during the campaign, and the utter contempt for government that conservatives and the far right have long professed. It’s also the sign of an insecure leader afraid of hiring people who are smarter and more capable than he is.
Even that contempt has been taken to an extreme by Trump, who has not only hired incompetent ideologues to run complex organizations that they have no business running; he’s appointed figures who have spent their pre-Trump political lives trying to dismantle the work with which those agencies are tasked.
The nature of Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ role in this White House has made her a much bigger target. Her command of the more mechanical aspects of her job – orchestrating press conferences from the podium, speaking clearly and forcefully, sticking to the administration’s script, etc. – has been uncharacteristically competent for this White House. Her blind loyalty to the president, however, has exposed her complicity in numerous lies and and half truths that he’s perpetrated.
Her departure from the White House, whether it’s in six days or six months, will be felt. Whatever you may think of her scruples, she’s been an effective microphone for this president.
What this says about the health of the administration is yet to be seen. Trump and his allies will surely claim that all is well, but rats rarely scurry off of a ship unless it’s about to sink.