McEnany's mission: Stand by, defend, punch back for Trump

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FILE - In this June 3, 2020, file photo, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany speaks during a briefing at the White House in Washington. McEnany is the fourth press secretary in Trump's administration. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

WASHINGTON – Kayleigh McEnany is standing with President Donald Trump.

He summoned her, after all — to be his fourth White House press secretary and to his side last week at the steps of St. John’s Church after the military forcefully cleared away peaceful protesters. Everything around them spoke of faith and the nation's suffering: the boarded-up “church of presidents” and the Bible in Trump’s hand. The pepper spray in the air. The crucifix, peeking out from McEnany’s collar.

But Trump did not speak of spirituality or the health and racial crises wracking the country he leads. He instead promised that “the greatest country in the world” would come back on his watch. At Trump's left, McEnany gave a nod and did not budge until he did, confirming that while she’s got a new title, she serves a familiar role as Trump's most visible political advocate.

“In past White Houses, it was possible to reliably distinguish the transcript of a statement by the White House press secretary from that of the spokesperson for that president’s reelection campaign,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. “It is increasingly difficult to do so.”

With poise and preparation, McEnany has made clear from her first briefing that she’s willing to defend her boss’s view of himself as well as his most flagrant misstatements. In exchange, she frequently cites her proximity to the president — the coin of the realm in Washington — as evidence that she can speak credibly to his thinking and intent.

“I’m around the president,” she told reporters last month. “His intent is always to give truthful information to the American people.”

And to punch back. When his photo op at St. John’s Church generated condemnations even from some Republicans, Trump rumbled on Twitter that his critics “got it wrong!”

“People liked my walk to this historic place of worship!” he tweeted in part.