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Sarah Sanders Marks One Year On The Job


This weekend marks one year since Sarah Sanders was named White House press secretary, and she is coming off an especially chaotic week spent explaining President Trump's remarks about Russian interference in U.S. elections. NPR's Sarah McCammon has this look back at Sanders first year.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: It's a typical part of the White House press secretary's job to defend the president and sometimes clash with reporters, but Donald Trump is not a typical president. So for Sarah Sanders, that's an unusually combative relationship with the press, like in this exchange this week with NBC's Hallie Jackson over Trump's contradictory statements on Russia.


HALLIE JACKSON: But why should this president have any credibility to Americans in what he says, if, in fact, 24 hours later, or in this case three hours later, the White House comes out and says, just kidding?

SARAH SANDERS: That's not what I said. I was interpreting what the president's intention was and stating the administration's policy. It's not exactly what you just explained.

MCCAMMON: In the briefing room, Sanders often moves quickly from one news outlet to the next, cutting off follow-up questions before ending press conferences with many reporters' questions unanswered. But her predecessor, Sean Spicer, says Sanders has been particularly effective at understanding and channeling her boss. Here he is speaking with NPR's Mary Louise Kelly this week.


SEAN SPICER: That was a challenge for me at the beginning. He's an unconventional candidate and president. He's a disrupter, and we were trying to adapt. And I think she's done a good job of adapting to what he wants her to do and say and communicate his thoughts.

MCCAMMON: Sanders' critics also say her style is a direct reflection of her boss's combative nature. Amanda Carpenter is a former press aide to Republicans including Texas Senator Ted Cruz and author of the book "Gaslighting America," which is critical of Trump. Carpenter says it's normal for a press secretary to disagree with journalists.

AMANDA CARPENTER: But many times, she has gone much further in questioning the motives of reporters, questioning whether they're lying. I mean, once you're questioning people's motives, you're not doing a service to anyone. You're not relaying information. You're playing us versus them.

MCCAMMON: In an interview with C-SPAN in June, Sanders acknowledged her tense relationship with the press.


SANDERS: I think certainly the tension could be lower, and I've made attempts to try to do that a few times. But it's always going to be a little bit of friction between the White House and the White House press corps.

MCCAMMON: Recently, that tension has extended beyond the press room.


SANDERS: Many by now have heard that I was asked to leave a restaurant this weekend where I attempted to have dinner with my family.

MCCAMMON: Last month, she was turned away from The Red Hen restaurant in Virginia after being recognized as President Trump's press secretary. Speaking to reporters later, Sanders called out people who had made threats against both her and the restaurant.


SANDERS: We're allowed to disagree, but we should be able to do so freely and without fear of harm. And this goes for all people, regardless of politics.

MCCAMMON: Sanders did not respond to requests for an interview with NPR. Her colleague on the White House communications team, Hogan Gidley, has known Sanders since she was a college student. And he was working for her father, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. Gidley says Sanders' upbringing has prepared her for the job - to a point.

HOGAN GIDLEY: Because it is Donald Trump and because the interest is so high in this White House, I believe Sarah handles it beautifully. But it's something I don't think anyone can adequately prepare for on the front end.

MCCAMMON: Sanders recently pushed back on a CBS News report about herself that she told friends she was preparing to leave the Trump administration at the end of the year. She tweeted - I love my job, and I'm honored to work for the president. Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon worked for Iowa Public Radio as Morning Edition Host from January 2010 until December 2013.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
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