Trump wants his next press secretary to be a cable news 'street fighter'

WASHINGTON — With Sarah Sanders on her way out of the White House, President Trump is looking for a new press secretary and, as usual, he has his eye on cable news.

Multiple sources in the president’s orbit told Yahoo News that Trump’s vision for Sanders’s replacement doesn’t involve returning to traditional White House press briefings. Instead, the sources said the president is looking for an aggressive defender to make regular television appearances. He also seems settled on having a woman fill the role: The list of top contenders to take the position is filled with five women who have on-air experience.

“This is about how you can take control of the news cycle and represent the president. ... What Trump ultimately wants as the press secretary is someone who’s going to be a loyalist and an attack dog to go out there and defend him,” one source close to the president said.

Multiple sources named five women who are in the running for the press secretary. Stephanie Grisham, who has served as the primary spokeswoman for first lady Melania Trump, topped the list. Grisham did not respond to requests for comment.

The sources were divided on whether Grisham would be open to moving from Melania Trump’s office to the West Wing; however, there was a consensus that the job was hers for the taking. A source close to the president said Grisham is “the best” fit for the position.

“She’s defended Melania and shown that she’s definitely up for the street fighter aspect of this,” the source said of Grisham, who has aggressively responded to various rumors and stories about the first lady.

A former Trump campaign adviser agreed with that assessment.

“She’s got the inside support. FLOTUS loves her,” the ex-adviser said of Grisham. “She understands how to work with Trump and the media. She’s protected them.”

The White House did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

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Stephanie Grisham in her White House role
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 9 : Director of Communications for the First Lady Stephanie Grisham follows President Donald J. Trump, First Lady Melania Trump, and son Barron Trump as they walk to Marine One to depart from the South Lawn at the White House on Friday, March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 20 : Stephanie Grisham, Press Secretary and Communications Director for the First Lady Melania Trump, talks on the phone before President Donald J. Trump arrives to pardon Peas the turkey during the presentation of the National Thanksgiving turkey in the Rose Garden at the White House on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
White House Communications Director Stephanie Grisham (L) and Britain's Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary Michael Gove (2L) arrive through the East Gallery during a State Banquet in the ballroom at Buckingham Palace in central London on June 3, 2019, on the first day of the US president and First Lady's three-day State Visit to the UK. - Britain rolled out the red carpet for US President Donald Trump on June 3 as he arrived in Britain for a state visit already overshadowed by his outspoken remarks on Brexit. (Photo by Victoria Jones / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read VICTORIA JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 03: (EMBARGOED FOR PUBLICATION IN UK NEWSPAPERS UNTIL 24 HOURS AFTER CREATE DATE AND TIME) Stephanie Grisham, Press Secretary and Communications Director to U.S. First Lady Melania Trump and Kellyanne Conway, Counselor to U.S. President Donald Trump look out of a window of Buckingham Palace during the Ceremonial Welcome in the Buckingham Palace Garden for US President Donald Trump on day 1 of his State Visit to the UK on June 3, 2019 in London, England. President Trump's three-day state visit will include lunch with the Queen, and a State Banquet at Buckingham Palace, as well as business meetings with the Prime Minister and the Duke of York, before travelling to Portsmouth to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. (Photo by Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 24 : Assistant to President Donald Trump and Counselor to the President Johnny DeStefano and Press Secretary and Communications Director for the First Lady Stephanie Grisham follow President Donald J. Trump as they walk from the Oval Office to board the Marine One helicopter to depart from the South Lawn of the White House on Friday, Aug 24, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
U.S. first lady Melania Trump’s Communications Director Stephanie Grisham works on her smartphone as she stands on the White House colonnade before an event to celebrate the anniversary of first lady Melania Trump's “Be Best” initiative in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 7, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway talks with U.S. first lady Melania Trump’s Communications Director Stephanie Grisham on the White House colonnade before an event to celebrate the one year anniversary of first lady Melania Trump's “Be Best” initiative in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 7, 2019. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
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Sanders, who is set to leave her post at the end of this month, transformed the role of the press secretary since coming onboard in mid-2017. Traditionally the position involved being the public face of the White House via a daily press briefing. However, under Sanders, the briefings went from multiple times a week to being virtually eliminated. Sanders stepped behind the podium in the White House briefing room only two times so far this year.

Her last briefing was 95 days ago.

In the absence of briefings, Sanders role has largely involved making appearances on television news programs to defend the president. All of the sources who discussed her replacement with Yahoo News indicated Trump wants a similar approach for her successor.

“They haven’t had a briefing in 90-something days. It might be another 90 days. ... This isn’t about a job at the podium,” the source close to the president said.

Trump is a devoted cable news watcher who focuses on how he’s portrayed on television. So his ideal press secretary, a former campaign staffer said, would be “a figurehead … who appears on TV all the time.”

“That’s the thing with Trumpworld. The only thing that matters if you’re a high-level person on the press or communications side is whether you’re good on TV,” the ex-staffer said. “At the end of the day, he only takes you seriously if you’re on TV.”

Trump’s focus on television also has made him eager to have a woman fill the press secretary role. “It’s pretty clear the president wants a woman to do it,” the source close to Trump said. “He likes that imagery. He’s kind of settled in what he’s looking for.”

The source suggested that the desire for a woman as press secretary meant that Tony Sayegh, a senior Treasury spokesperson who has been spoken of as a potential successor to Sanders, was unlikely to get the gig. Sayegh, who left his post on Thursday, has been the top spokesperson for Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

Multiple sources said another man, Sanders’s current deputy Hogan Gidley, was also not in the running for the role due to opposition from other members of the administration.

“Almost universally nobody wants Hogan to do it,” the source close to the president said. “That’s the common refrain, anybody but him.”

Gidley did not respond to a request for comment.

Along with Grisham, the other women who are said to be in the running for the press secretary job are Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus, Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich, and former State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert. None of them responded to requests for comment. All of them have extensive television experience. Like Pavlich, both Ortagus and Nauert have worked at Fox News.

Multiple sources said that Kupec was recently offered a position as a leading spokesperson on President Trump’s reelection campaign that would have been an ideal stepping stone to the press secretary role. However, Kupec turned down that position. The source close to the president cited this as a reason they were dubious Kupec would be interested in leaving her position at the Justice Department. They argued Kupec “likes the autonomy” that comes with being outside of the White House.

“She gets the experience but isn’t necessarily labeled as a Trump person,” the source said of Kupec.

Trump previously announced he would nominate Nauert to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations last December. However, Nauert ultimately withdrew from consideration amid reports she had employed a nanny who was not authorized to work in the United States. That issue could also be a roadblock to Nauert getting the press secretary job.

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, accompanied by State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, right, departs a news conference at the State Department in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
State Dept. spokesperson Heather Nauert, left, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speak with reporters in his plane while flying from Panama to Mexico, Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018. (Brendan Smialowski/Pool Image via AP)
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, left, and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, right, smile as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a news conference on North Korea in the briefing room at the White House, Thursday, June 7, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017. The State Department says President Donald Trump is "on the same page" with the rest of U.S. government with his fiery threat to North Korea. Nauert said the White House, State Department and Pentagon are all in agreement. She says the world, too, is speaking with one voice. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017. The State Department says President Donald Trump is "on the same page" with the rest of U.S. government with his fiery threat to North Korea. Nauert said the White House, State Department and Pentagon are all in agreement. She says the world, too, is speaking with one voice. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017. The State Department says President Donald Trump is "on the same page" with the rest of U.S. government with his fiery threat to North Korea. Nauert said the White House, State Department and Pentagon are all in agreement. She says the world, too, is speaking with one voice. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert speaks during the release of the international religious freedom report at the State Department in Washington, DC on May 29, 2018. (Photo by Mandel Ngan / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 26: Spokesperson of U.S. State Department Heather Nauert (C) is seen during the first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom July 26, 2018 at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hosts 'government officials, representatives of international organizations, religious leaders, rights advocates, and members of civil society organizations from around the world to discuss challenges to religious freedom, identify concrete means to address persecution of and discrimination against religious groups, and promote greater respect for religious freedom for all.' (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
(L-R): Heather Nauert, Acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs & State Dept. Spokesperson, and U.S. First Lady Melania Trump, shake hands before her remarks, at the annual International Women of Courage (IWOC) Awards honoring 10 extraordinary women from around the world. At the U.S. Dept. of State, on Friday, March 23, 2018.(Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Heather Nauert, Acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs & State Dept. Spokesperson hosted the annual International Women of Courage (IWOC) Awards honoring 10 extraordinary women from around the world. U.S. First Lady Melania Trump delivered special remarks at the ceremony. At the U.S. Dept. of State, on Friday, March 23, 2018.(Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 30: U.S. Department of State spokesperson Heather Nauert speaks in the press briefing room at the Department of State on November 30, 2017 in Washington, DC. Nauert addressed the media on Thursday about Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his future at the State Department. (Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 30: U.S. Department of State spokesperson Heather Nauert speaks in the press briefing room at the Department of State on November 30, 2017 in Washington, DC. Nauert addressed the media on Thursday about Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his future at the State Department. (Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 30: U.S. Department of State spokesperson Heather Nauert speaks in the press briefing room at the Department of State on November 30, 2017 in Washington, DC. Nauert addressed the media on Thursday about Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his future at the State Department. (Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 30: U.S. Department of State spokesperson Heather Nauert speaks in the press briefing room at the Department of State on November 30, 2017 in Washington, DC. Nauert addressed the media on Thursday about Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his future at the State Department. (Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)
State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert (R) and US Global AIDS Coordinator & US Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy Deborah Birx arrive for a briefing at the State Department in Washington, DC on November 30, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington, DC on November 30, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Mandel Ngan (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, USA - SEPTEMBER 13: U.S. Department of State Spokesperson Heather Nauert speaks to members of the foreign press during a briefing at the Foreign Press Center in Washington, United States on September 13, 2017. (Photo by Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, USA - SEPTEMBER 13: U.S. Department of State Spokesperson Heather Nauert speaks to members of the foreign press during a briefing at the Foreign Press Center in Washington, United States on September 13, 2017. (Photo by Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 05: Fox Newscaster Heather Nauert tells the news during Eric Stonestreet and Mother Jamey Stonestreet Visit 'Fox & Friends' at FOX Studios on May 5, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 05: Fox Newscaster Heather Nauert tells the news during Eric Stonestreet and Mother Jamey Stonestreet Visit 'Fox & Friends' at FOX Studios on May 5, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 10: (L-R) TV Personality Steve Doocy, TV Personality Heather Nauert and Musician Bret Michaels pose for a photograph during 'FOX & Friends' All American Concert Series outside of FOX Studios on July 10, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Debra L Rothenberg/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 24: Michelle Wie (2nd R), 2014 U.S. Women's Open Golf Champion, with hosts Steve Doocy, Heather Nauert, Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Maria Molina at 'FOX And Friends' at FOX Studios on June 24, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 24: Michelle Wie (2nd R), 2014 U.S. Women's Open Golf Champion, with hosts Heather Nauert, Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Maria Molina, play golf at 'FOX And Friends' at FOX Studios on June 24, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 06: (L-R) Steve Doocy, Heather Nauert and Chris Daughtry attend 'FOX & Friends' All American Concert Series outside of FOX Studios on June 6, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Janette Pellegrini/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 13: (L-R) Heather Nauert, Kellie Pickler, Steve Doocy, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Maria Molina and Brian Kilmeade visit 'FOX & Friends' at FOX Studios on May 13, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 17: Heather Nauert attends Valerie Harper Visits 'FOX & Friends' at FOX Studios on April 17, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 17: Heather Nauert (L) attends Valerie Harper Visits 'FOX & Friends' at FOX Studios on April 17, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 17: Heather Nauert (L) attends Valerie Harper Visits 'FOX & Friends' at FOX Studios on April 17, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 17: Heather Nauert attends Valerie Harper Visits 'FOX & Friends' at FOX Studios on April 17, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images)
(L to R) Bloomberg's Cali Carlin, Fox's Heather Nauert, and NBC's Sara Gore attend Moves Summer 2010 at Studio 450 on July 6, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Brian Killian/WireImage)
Fox's Heather Nauert and EIC of Moves Magazine Richard Ellison attend Moves Summer 2010 at Studio 450 on July 6, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Brian Killian/WireImage)
Fox's Heather Nauert and Christopher Siversen attend Moves Summer 2010 at Studio 450 on July 6, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Brian Killian/WireImage)
(L to R) Moves Magazine publisher Mamoonah Ellison and Fox's Heather Nauert attends Moves Summer 2010 at Studio 450 on July 6, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Brian Killian/WireImage)
(L to R) Cali Carlin, Ryan Smith, Heather Nauert, Ed McFarland, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sara Gore and Michael Huynh attend Moves Summer 2010 at Studio 450 on July 6, 2010 in New York City.
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Ortagus and Pavlich don’t have that kind of baggage. The source close to Trump said the president “likes” Ortagus because she’s “a Fox person.” But while appearances on Fox News would definitely catch Trump’s eye, that might not be enough to secure the press secretary post.

That source noted Sanders’s interactions with the press often included contentious interactions with reporters from major news outlets.

“When’s the last time Sarah had an interview that was just a lay-up?” the source asked.

Similarly, Trump would be looking for someone who had a body of work that extended beyond conservative media to replace Sanders.

“This is a street fighter-type position over at the White House,” the source said. “This isn’t Fox News where everyone likes the president and it’s just presentation and delivery.”

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