Spicer back in action, despite weeks of ceaseless 'shakeup' stories

Shortly after 2 p.m. yesterday, Sean Spicer held a televised briefing at the White House.

And that is news simply because so many media reports predicted, speculated or insinuated that he would be gone by now.

This is at least the fifth or sixth wave of stories and segments suggesting that the press secretary was going to be fired, pulled from the daily briefings, or otherwise be downgraded and demoted. And each time, these have turned out to be premature obituaries.

The “shakeup” story is a staple of American journalism, but with this administration it’s practically a daily fixation.

Spicer isn’t the only White House official to have gotten the treatment. Reince Priebus has gone through several cycles of breathless reporting that he’s halfway out the door; in fact, an Axios story yesterday said President Trump is considering a veteran lobbyist as his new chief of staff. Steve Bannon was supposed to have been marginalized, if not booted, after his feud with Jared Kushner spilled into public view; he’s still part of the inner circle.

The same goes for Kushner, who had been the subject of media chatter that he might have to give up part of his portfolio or temporarily step aside because the FBI is looking at his contacts with Russia, even though he’s not a subject or target of the probe. That's not happening.

Now these stories are driven in part by leaks from various White House factions dumping on rivals, so you can hardly blame reporters for vacuuming them up. But that often makes it hard to distinguish between what’s real and what’s driven by personal agendas.

At the same time, Trump is clearly unhappy with his communications team. Mike Dubke’s resignation as communications director after just three months on the job was announced yesterday. He was an outsider who couldn’t build a relationship with the president, and almost no one in America knew who he was.

Trump wants not just to beef up the PR team but to establish an outside war room to handle rapid response on the Russia investigation and perhaps other matters. He’s talked to former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and former deputy campaign manager Dave Bossie about joining such an effort, inside or outside the White House, but nothing has been decided.

That, however, doesn’t necessarily mean other folks will be let go.

White House staffing changes are not unusual as an administration tries to find its footing. In the early months of the Clinton administration, George Stephanopoulos, who had been briefing the press, was moved to an inside role, and David Gergen, who had worked for Republican presidents, was brought in as a top adviser.

But the coverage of the Trump White House has a soap opera quality. And the president can be counted on to keep the plot moving with his Twitter attacks on what he calls the fake-news press.

Spicer amplified that at the podium yesterday. He adopted a terse approach, deflecting questions about Kushner and the FBI by saying the matter is under investigation and he would not respond to unconfirmed allegations by anonymous sources.

The spokesman also said that Trump was frustrated by the “perpetuation of false narratives” based on unnamed sources. He cited as an example of fake news a false tweet by a BBC reporter, picked up elsewhere, that Trump was not listening to the Italian leader at the G-7 summit because he wasn’t wearing headphones for the translation; it turned out he was using a small earpiece instead.

One of these days the shakeup stories will be right and some top aides will leave or be asked to leave. But for now, Sean Spicer is still doing combat at the podium.