White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who defended President Trump’s policies against a hostile press corps with dry wit and steely resolve, is stepping down from her post at the end of the month.
She told reporters she wouldn’t rule out a run for governor in her native Arkansas.
The president announced Mrs. Sanders’ departure on Twitter, saying she has done “an incredible job” in the two years since she took over for Sean Spicer and waged daily battles against a media that her boss dubbed “the enemy of the people.”
In an East Room event on criminal justice reform, the president afforded his press secretary a rare honor, calling her up to the dais to praise her service.
“We’ve been through a lot together,” the president said. “She is a special person, a very, very fine woman. She’s strong but with great, great heart. She’s a warrior.”
Mrs. Sanders, 36, said she would “try not to get emotional” as her eyes welled up and her voice caught for a moment.
“This has been an honor of a lifetime, the opportunity of a lifetime,” she said. “I’ve loved every minute, even the hard minutes. I love the president.”
She added, “It’s truly the most special experience. The only one I can think of that might top it, just a little bit, is the fact that I’m a mom of three amazing kids. And I’m going to spend a little more time with them.”
Mrs. Sanders and her husband, Bryan, a political consultant, plan to move to Arkansas. The president said he’s been urging her to run for governor, following in the footsteps of her father, former Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee.
“If we can get her to run for the governor of Arkansas, I think she’ll do very well,” Mr. Trump said. “And I’m trying to get her to do that.”
She didn’t rule it out.
“I’ve learned a long time ago never to rule anything out. I do look forward to going back home,” she told reporters later.
Sources close to the White House say Mrs. Sanders came close to leaving the job last year, but ended up delaying her departure after her top deputy, Raj Shah, left for the private sector. Many White House staffers learned of her departure at a 3 p.m. meeting Thursday. Mr. Trump didn’t announce a replacement.
She brought a dry sense of humor to the press secretary’s podium, and she succeeded for a time in lowering the temperature of the White House’s infamous clashes with the press.
But with Mr. Trump continually feuding with the media, and the president preferring to do most of the talking for himself, Mrs. Sanders also presided over the disappearance of daily press briefings at the White House. The daily question-and-answer sessions have been a staple of multiple administrations, but Thursday was the 94th consecutive day without a press briefing.
Mrs. Sanders became a public-relations lightning rod for the administration last year when she and her family were asked to leave a restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, because the staff disapproved of the administration’s policies. The ugly treatment of her came as criticism intensified over the administration’s child-separation policy for illegal immigrant families at the southern border.
In a memorable clash a year ago, Mrs. Sanders went toe-to-toe with CNN’s Jim Acosta over a comment by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions about the Bible serving as a guide for obeying the laws of government when it came to the family-separation policy.
“You just said it’s in the Bible to follow the law,” Mr. Acosta challenged her at one point.
She retorted: “That’s not what I said. And I know it’s hard for you to understand even short sentences, I guess, but please don’t take my words out of context.”
At the annual White House Correspondents Association dinner in April 2018, Mrs. Sanders was an honored guest on the dais when comedian Michelle Wolf targeted her with biting comments that many considered rude and hostile. Mrs. Sanders handled the insults with aplomb, but this year the president announced a White House boycott of the dinner.
Mrs. Sanders came under renewed fire from the media this spring after the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, in which she acknowledged that her claim to the press in 2017 about FBI employees losing faith in fired Director James B. Comey wasn’t based on anything. She also told the special counsel’s investigators that her assertion about the White House having heard from “countless” FBI employees who were unhappy with Mr. Comey was “a slip of the tongue.”
But in the White House, Mrs. Sanders has been respected among her staff and colleagues as a capable, tireless, cool-headed defender of the president’s policies.
Vice President Mike Pence called her “a patriot who worked tirelessly every day to deliver on” Mr. Trump’s America First agenda.
Brent Bozell, founder of the conservative watchdog Media Research Center, tweeted, “Will we ever see a Press Secretary as fearless as Sarah @PressSec ever again? I doubt it. What a ride!”
Conservative evangelical media figure Erick Erickson said Mrs. Sanders “has been a model of grace under fire.”
“She will never get the fawning praise from the press that she would if her boss was a Democrat, but she deserves a lot of praise,” he tweeted.
With the president formally launching his reelection bid Monday in Florida, Mrs. Sanders said her plans for the immediate future include continuing “to be one of the most outspoken and loyal supporters of the president and his agenda.”
“And I know he’s going to have an incredible six more years and get a whole lot more done,” she said.
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