Sean Spicer

Sean Michael Spicer (born September 23, 1971) is the current White House Press Secretary and former communications director for President Donald Trump. Spicer was communications director of the Republican National Committee from 2011 to 2017, and its chief strategist from 2015 to 2017.

As press secretary, Spicer has drawn criticism for making numerous false or controversial statements, as well as for displaying combative behavior with the press. The first such instance occurred on the day following Trump's inauguration. Spicer repeated the claim that crowds at the ceremony were the largest ever at such an event and that the press had deliberately under-estimated the number of spectators. Trump aide Kellyanne Conway defended Spicer's action by stating that he had presented what she called "alternative facts" regarding the inauguration's attendance numbers. Some commentators have compared Spicer's role in the Trump administration to the role played for Saddam Hussein by Information Minister Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, also known as Baghdad Bob.

Spicer originally stated that the Trump inauguration was "the most watched ever", but when that statement was debunked, he said that he had been referring not only to live attendees at the ceremony or those watching on TV, but also viewers who had watched the inauguration online. However, no conclusive figures are available for online viewers, so the claim is unverifiable.

Press secretary Sean Spicer.jpg
Press secretary Sean Spicer.jpg

Early life and education

Spicer is the son of Kathryn (née Grossman) and Michael William Spicer. The Spicers were living in Port Washington when Sean was born at North Shore Hospital in Manhasset, New York. Spicer grew up in the East Bay area of Rhode Island. His father was an insurance agent and his mother is the department manager in the East Asian studies department at Brown University. Spicer is of partial Irish descent, and was raised Catholic.

From 1985 to 1989, Spicer attended Portsmouth Abbey School, a Roman Catholic boarding school in Rhode Island. While in high school, he volunteered for local political campaigns in Rhode Island and continued those activities while at college.

He attended Connecticut College from 1989 to 1993 and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in government. In college he was a student senator. In April 1993, an article in the student paper, The College Voice, referred to Spicer as "Sean Sphincter"; Spicer submitted an angry complaint to the paper and followed up by pushing for college judicial action against the paper, for which he received further ribbing from the campus satirical publication Blats. The incident was later cited as the beginning of his contentious relationship with the media.

In 2012, he earned a master's degree in national security and strategic studies from the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.

Early career

After graduating from college in 1993, Spicer worked on a number of political campaigns. In the late 1990s he worked for representatives Mike Pappas (R-NJ), Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), Mark Foley (R-FL), and Clay Shaw (R-FL).

In 1999, Spicer joined the U.S. Navy Reserve as a public affairs officer; he currently holds the rank of commander. As of December 2016, he was assigned to the Joint Chiefs of Staff's naval reserve contingent in Washington, D.C.

Government appointments

From 2000 to 2001, Spicer was the communications director on the House Government Reform Committee, and from 2001 to 2002 he was director of incumbent retention at the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).

From 2003 to 2005, Spicer was the communications director and spokesman for the House Budget Committee. He subsequently was the communications director for the Republican Conference of the U.S. House of Representatives, and then, from 2006-09, was the assistant for media and public affairs at the Office of the United States Trade Representative in President George W. Bush's administration. He wore an Easter bunny suit during the White House Easter Egg Rolls.

Endeavor Global Strategies

From 2009 to 2011, Spicer was a partner at Endeavor Global Strategies, a public relations firm he co-founded to represent foreign governments and corporations with business before the U.S. government. His firm represented the foreign government of Colombia, then seeking a free trade agreement with the U.S. amid public criticism of the its human rights record, and other clients. Spicer worked full-time at the firm until February 2011.

Republican National Committee

In February 2011, Spicer became the communications director of the Republican National Committee. At the RNC, he enlarged the organization's social media operations, built an in-house TV production team, and created a rapid response program to reply to attacks. In February 2015 he was given an additional role, as chief strategist for the party.

While at the RNC, Spicer was critical of then Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. In June 2015, after Trump said illegal immigrants from Mexico were involved in crimes in the U.S., Spicer said "painting Mexican Americans with that kind of a brush, I think that's probably something that is not helpful to the cause." In July 2015, he released a public criticism of Trump's comments on U.S. Senator John McCain, saying "there is no place in our party or our country for comments that disparage those who have served honorably."

Press secretary for the Trump administration

On December 22, 2016, Spicer was named the White House press secretary for Donald Trump. On December 24, he was also named the communications director for the Trump Administration after the sudden and unexpected resignation of Jason Miller.

In April 2017, Politico reported that Spicer had a nationwide name recognition of 60%, much higher than most other White House staffers and previous press secretaries.

First statement to the press

Spicer at press conference

On January 21, 2017, which was the day after the inauguration and two days before his first official press conference, Spicer made a statement to the press that was negatively critical of the media; he said that they had underestimated the size of the crowds for President Trump's inaugural ceremony. He claimed that the ceremony had drawn the "largest audience to ever to witness an inauguration, period – both in person and around the globe". But as many sources immediately pointed out, that claim was false. Spicer stated that the press had altered images of the event to minimize the size of the crowds. He said floor coverings over the grass were to blame for a visual effect that made the audience look smaller, and stated they had never been used before despite the fact that they had been used in 2013 for the preceding second inauguration of Barack Obama. He also used incorrect figures to claim that Metro ridership was higher during Trump's inauguration than during Obama's inauguration, when in fact it was lower than during either of Obama's inaugurations. Spicer took no questions after his statement. Later, Spicer defended his previous statements by saying "sometimes we can disagree with the facts". It was subsequently reported that Spicer had made the statement on direct orders from Trump, who was furious at what he considered unfair press coverage of his inauguration.

In response to the briefing, conservative political analyst Bill Kristol wrote: "It is embarrassing, as an American, to watch this briefing by Sean Spicer from the podium at the White House." Vanity Fair described Spicer's statement as "peppered with lies", and The Atlantic described Spicer's briefing as "bizarre". The article referred to the "Trump administration's needless lies" and noted that Spicer's statements appeared to involve a "deliberate attempt to mislead". Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post gave Spicer's claims four Pinocchios, claiming that he was so appalled by the press secretary's performance that he wished he could have given him five Pinocchios instead of the maximum number of four.

Trump's team defended Spicer's statements. White House chief of staff Reince Priebus stated that the purpose of Spicer's conference was to call out what he called "dishonesty in the media" and their "obsession with delegitimizing the president". Trump's campaign strategist and counselor, Kellyanne Conway, told NBC's Chuck Todd that Trump's inauguration crowd numbers could not be proved nor quantified and that the press secretary was simply giving "alternative facts". Todd responded by saying, "Alternative facts are not facts. They are falsehoods."

First official press conference

President Donald Trump receives a briefing on a military strike.jpg
Spicer (behind Trump's shoulder in the corner) during the April 2017 Syrian missile strike operation

Two days later on January 23, 2017, Spicer held his first official White House press conference and took questions from reporters. When Spicer was asked about attendance at the inauguration, he said that his definition of a viewing audience also included individuals who watched the event on television as well as on social media online. He claimed that online viewership must have been in the "tens of millions".

Spicer's argument was based on the reported figure of 16.9 million people who began streaming the inauguration on CNN's website. This argument has been criticized because the 16.9 million streams included people who started the stream and then left.

On February 7, 2017, CNN reported that "President Donald Trump is disappointed in Spicer's performance during the first two weeks of the administration." Trump also is upset at White House chief of staff Reince Priebus for recommending Spicer, the network reported. Trump "regrets it every day and blames Priebus", a White House source told CNN. His role as temporary communications director was filled by Michael Dubke on March 6, 2017.

Press briefing with Hitler–Assad comparison

On April 11, 2017, Spicer issued a statement in reference to the Khan Shaykhun chemical attack. He said that Russia should not support the Syrian government and also commented that in World War II "You had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn't even sink to using chemical weapons." However, hydrogen cyanide, the active component of Zyklon B, which was used to kill people in Hitler's gas chambers, is identified as a chemical weapon under the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention.

His remarks were widely criticized, especially given the fact that the timing of the remarks coincided with the Jewish holiday of Passover. Spicer later clarified that he was not trying to deny that Hitler used lethal gas during the Holocaust, instead that he was trying to compare how Assad dropped bombs on population centers to how Hitler used the gas. Amid calls for his resignation, Spicer formally apologized the next day.

In popular culture

Spicer has been compared by several commentators to "Baghdad Bob."

On January 24, 2017, Trevor Noah profiled Spicer on The Daily Show with a segment called "Profiles in Tremendousness". Noah likened him to an air freshener "that just makes things worse" in the restroom and roasted him about using "alternative facts".

On February 4, 2017, a "raging" Spicer was lampooned on Saturday Night Live (SNL) when Melissa McCarthy portrayed him in a skit giving a press conference. Spicer stated that he found the skit "funny", but that McCarthy "could dial back" a bit. Politico reported sources close to Trump saying it was "Spicer's portrayal by a woman that was most problematic in the president's eyes."

A week later, on February 11, 2017, McCarthy reprised her role as Spicer on SNL with a cold open. Vanity Fair wrote "the sketch itself went right for the jugular". The skit satirized Spicer hawking Ivanka Trump products and lamented that Nordstrom had dropped her eponymous clothing line. McCarthy again played Spicer on April 15, 2017, dressed as the Easter Bunny and talking to a group of children. She played Spicer another time on May 13, 2017 when she hosted the show.

Personal life

On November 13, 2004, Spicer married Rebecca Miller, at the time a television producer, at St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. Spicer and his wife live in Alexandria, Virginia. They have two children. His wife is senior vice president, communications and public affairs, for the National Beer Wholesalers Association.

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