President Donald Trump has done the unthinkable: He has made political reporters feel sympathy for White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer after the president excluded Spicer from a group of staffers who met with Pope Francis on Wednesday.
“This seems needlessly harsh – when else is Spicer likely to meet the Pope, and it mattered to him?” tweeted New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, one of several who weighed in after a White House source told CNN that “Spicer fumed to colleagues” after being snubbed from the private session with the pontiff.
“He was eagerly anticipating meeting the Pope, but discovered at the last minute that he was not on the shortlist of White House officials selected to join the President for the private audience,” CNN reported.
Spicer, a devout Roman Catholic, had told CNN that meeting the pope was “one of the bucket list items” he hoped to accomplish during his tenure in the White House.
In Spicer’s place, communications adviser Hope Hicks, former bodyguard Keith Schiller and social media guru Dan Scavino joined Trump on the visit with Pope Francis in the Vatican. The private audience also included members of Trump’s immediate family, including First Lady Melania Trump.
In recent weeks, there has been widespread speculation about a shakeup of the White House communications team and the future for Spicer, who has emerged as a household name for combative press briefings.
The slight comes amid reports that Trump is considering reducing Spicer’s public role following months of combative press briefines in the White House. Politico reported last week that after the president’s foreign trip Spicer will no longer be expected to do a daily, on-camera briefing after the president’s foreign trip.
But Spicer found some unlikely defenders in the White House press corps.
Citing “several officials familiar with the president’s thinking,” Politico reported last week that Trump is also considering shaking up his entire communications team as several ongoing scandals continue to make news on a daily basis. Earlier this month, Trump threatened to cancel all future press briefings “for the sake of accuracy” in an early morning tweet.
“The briefings have become one of the most dreaded parts of the president’s day, and Trump has told allies and aides he doesn’t want Spicer, who has developed a belligerent persona from behind the podium, publicly defending and explaining the message anymore,” insiders told Politico.
Trump recently offered an extremely mild endorsement of Spicer during an interview with Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, who asked Trump if Spicer will continue to be his spokesman “tomorrow” during an interview that aired earlier this month.
“Yeah, sure. He is. Well, he’s doing a good job but he gets beat up,” Trump said. “He just gets beat up by these people and again you know they don’t show the 90 questions that they asked and answered properly.”