Updated on July 21 at 1:50 p.m.
The White House saw a dramatic shake-up in its communications team Friday, as Press Secretary Sean Spicer resigned and President Trump appointed Anthony Scaramucci, a former hedge-fund manager, to be the administration’s communications director.
The moves will have far-reaching, though as yet unpredictable, ramifications for a presidency that has not yet found its footing amid the rockiest relationship with the press in recent history. Trump has been unable to pass any of his major legislative priorities and finds himself beset by an investigation into whether his campaign colluded with what U.S. intelligence agencies have called a Russian effort to sway the 2016 election in his favor, among other matters. He has reportedly blamed his communications staff for his travails.
Spicer indicated he will not leave the administration immediately, and tweeted his gratitude to the president:
He told The Washington Post’s Ben Terris he had no regrets. He will appear on the television show Sean Hannity, a staunch Trump backer and informal adviser, Friday evening.
Spicer’s departure, first reported by The New York Times, was long foretold. Representing the establishment wing of the administration, he was previously the spokesman for the Republican National Committee. Spicer won the president’s approval after launching an aggressive defense of the president in a pre-inauguration press conference, but stumbled soon after. The day after the inauguration, Spicer confronted reporters and tried to insist—contrary to all available facts—that the crowd had been the largest in history. As he began to stumble through briefings, the president grew disdainful, even picking apart his sartorial choices, according to White House sources.
Rumors that Spicer would be fired have been a running feature of the administration since March. A mild career flack, he became an improbable household name thanks to Melissa McCarthy’s indelible, recurring impersonation on Saturday Night Live. That mocking performance was said to only make Trump like him less, viewing it as a sign of weakness. His briefings, and contentious exchanges with reporters, became appointment TV, turning the normally dull and staid daily exchanges into YouTube hits. More recently, Spicer’s prominence has been downgraded, as the White House has replaced daily on-camera briefings with off-camera affairs, and Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders has increasingly spelled Spicer at the Brady Briefing Room lectern.
But despite those rumors, Spicer’s resignation on Friday came as a surprise. The New York Times reports that he told the president he strongly disagreed with the choice of Scaramucci as communications director.
Scaramucci’s appointment is a strange one from many angles. The 53-year-old financier has never worked in politics or as a spokesman, but he is a frequent media presence. He came to prominence as the head of SkyBridge Capital, a hedge fund. Like Trump, Scaramucci’s knack was not so much business acumen—SkyBridge was a notably poorly performing fund—but salesmanship and courting the media. Nicknamed “the Mooch” by reporters, he hosted a splashy annual conference in Las Vegas and was a frequent media presence.
An early Trump supporter, Scaramucci’s name has been connected to a variety of White House jobs, though none of them as prominent or important as White House communications director. Initially, he was going to be Trump’s business liaison, but that gig fell through when the sale of SkyBridge was delayed. He was later said to be the likely ambassador to the OECD and is currently working at the Export-Import Bank.
Even as Scaramucci’s appointment became news—Jonathan Swan first reported the impending news at Axios Thursday night—there seemed to be turmoil at the White House. Swan reported that Chief of Staff Reince Priebus had not been involved in the decision, and even as the news was confirmed Friday, Priebus seemed unsure of whether it was final.
Assuming it is, Scaramucci replaces Mike Dubke in a role that has proved challenging for the White House. Trump’s first choice, campaign aide Jason Miller, withdrew from consideration citing personal reasons. The job was not filled until mid-February, nearly a month into Trump’s administration. It has been vacant since Dubke stepped down at the end of May. Scaramucci will have his work cut out for him: He faces a demanding boss, a hostile press corps, and a communications office that is demoralized and without a chief spokesman.