WASHINGTON, May 14, 2018 — White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah told reporters Monday that he did not know how evangelical pastor Robert Jeffress was among those selected to speak at the opening of the United States’ new embassy in Jerusalem despite his past derogatory statements about Judaism and other major religions.
“I honestly don’t know how that came to be,” Shah said when asked how Jeffress, who said in 2010 that following Judaism, Hinduism and Islam — as well as membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints — can “lead people to an eternity of separation from God in Hell,” was selected to deliver an invocation at a ceremony officially marking the embassy’s move from the Tel Aviv facility that has now switched places with what was a US consulate in Jerusalem.
“I know that Pastor Jeffress has had a strong relationship with many in the faith community as well as folks in the administration and Republicans on the Hill, and others — as well as Democrats as well,” Shah explained. “I believe he has a longstanding involvement with public officials, beyond that I don’t really have a whole lot to add.”
Jeffress, currently pastor of First Baptist Church, a Dallas-based megachurch, is one of President Donald Trump’s closest evangelical advisers. He often speaks of Jerusalem’s significance to conservative Christians, which make up a significant component of Trump’s base of supporters.
In addition to his aforementioned 2010 remarks, Jeffress also called the Catholic Church “an instrument of Satan” that same year and referred to the LDS Church as “a cult” the next year.
He extended his predictions of eternal damnation to include political beliefs during the 2016 election, when during an appearance on Fox News, Jeffress told Fox News analyst Juan Williams that backing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) for president would send him to the lowest depths of hell,
Pressed further on whether Jeffress remarks about Jews made him an appropriate person to speak at an embassy opening in a country founded as a homeland for Jews in the wake of the Holocaust, Shah replied that he hadn’t seen the remarks but they were “obviously…not remarks that the president believes.”
Jeffress wasn’t the only controversial pastor at the ceremony
Later on, Shah was asked how another controversial pastor — Christians United for Israel founder Rev. John Hagee — ended up giving a closing benediction at the Jerusalem ceremony.
Hagee is perhaps most infamous for remarks made during the 2008 election in which he suggested Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler was an instrument of God because the Holocaust persuaded many Jews to move to what became Israel after World War II.
Shah reiterated that he had no information to offer but stressed that such views “wouldn’t be embraced by the White House.”
A State Department official told BeltwayBreakfast that US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman consulted with “many faith leaders” when planning for today’s ceremony, but would not say whether anyone from Foggy Bottom had played any role in Jeffress’ selection or done any vetting of the controversial pastor.
“Jerusalem is a holy city for millions of people around the world,” the official said, “and we sought to reflect that in this event.”
This story has been updated to include further background on Rev. Jeffress, Raj Shah’s comments on Rev. John Hagee, and background on Rev. Hagee. Paragraph 6 has also been updated for clarity.
First Lady’s Spokesperson To Replace Sanders As White House Press Secretary, Comms Director
WASHINGTON, June 25, 2019 — Stephanie Grisham, a Trump administration veteran who has served as First Lady Melania Trump’s spokeswoman since 2017, will take Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ place as White House Press Secretary.
Mrs. Trump announced Grisham’s appointment in a tweet Tuesday.
“I am pleased to announce [Stephanie Grisham] will be the next [Press Secretary]” Mrs. Trump wrote, adding Grisham would also serve as White House Communications Director, a role last held by Trump confidante Hope Hicks.
Mrs. Trump added that Grisham be “working for both sides of the White House,” which means she will retain her current responsibilities as Communications Director for the Office of the First Lady.
Grisham is a veteran of Trump’s 2016 campaign who initially came to the White House as a deputy to then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer, but was quickly tapped to run Mrs. Trump’s communications operation.
Known for being fiercely protective of Mrs. Trump, Grisham played a key role in rolling out her signature “Be Best” anti-cyberbullying initiative.
Sarah Sanders Will Resign At Month’s End, Trump Says
Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ tenure as White House Press Secretary will come to a close at the end of this month, President Trump said in a tweet Thursday.
“After 3 1/2 years, our wonderful Sarah Huckabee Sanders will be leaving the White House at the end of the month and going home to the Great State of Arkansas,” Trump tweeted.
“She is a very special person with extraordinary talents, who has done an incredible job!”
Trump added that he hoped Sanders would run for the governorship of Arkansas, a position once held by her father, Mike Huckabee.
Sanders is one of the few White House staffers who have served for the entirety of the Trump administration. She began her White House tenure as the Principal Deputy Press Secretary under Sean Spicer, but took over the top job in July of 2017 when Spicer resigned rather than report to Anthony Scaramucci, who’d been named White House Communications Director.
Scaramucci only lasted 11 days in the West Wing, but his decision to promote Sanders left a lasting impact on relations between the Trump administration and the press.
During her one year and 336 days as press secretary, the longstanding practice of holding a daily press briefing came to an end after months of contentious exchanges with reporters.
On the occasions when Sanders did brief the press, those sessions were frequently delayed until just before the President was due to speak at an event, giving her a reason to duck out of the room after as little as 20 minutes.
Her credibility as a reliable spokesperson took a hit after it was found that she’d lied about President Trump’s relationship with adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels.
The release of the Mueller Report did her reputation no favors, either, as it showed that she’d admitted to lying to the press in the wake of Trump’s decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey.
Asked to say a few words during a White House event on job opportunities for people with criminal records, Sanders said working in the Trump administration has been an honor and “the opportunity of a lifetime.”
“I could not be prouder to have the opportunity to serve my country and particularly to work for this president,” she said.
“I’ve loved every minute of it, even the hard minutes.”
The White House did not respond to a query as to who would replace Sanders, but it is widely expected that her job will pass to Hogan Gidley, her principal deputy and a fellow Arkansan.
Trump To Nominate Shanahan For Pentagon Boss After Five Months In ‘Acting’ Role
WASHINGTON, May 9, 2019 — Patrick Shanahan, the ex-Boeing VP who has led the Defense Department since late last year, may soon see his “acting” career come to an end.
Shanahan, 56, will soon be nominated for Senate confirmation as the 27th Secretary of Defense, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced Thursday.
“Based upon his outstanding service to the Country and his demonstrated ability to lead, President Trump intends to nominate Patrick M. Shanahan to be the Secretary of Defense,” Sanders said in a statement.
“Acting Secretary Shanahan has proven over the last several months that he is beyond qualified to lead the Department of Defense, and he will continue to do an excellent job.”
Trump previously tapped the former Boeing executive to serve as Deputy Secretary of Defense under the 26th person to hold that position, retired Marine General James Mattis.
Shanahan was made Acting Secretary of Defense in December 2018, after Mattis resigned following President Trump’s decision to accede to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s request that he pull US troops out of Syria. Before joining the Defense Department, he spent 30 years at Boeing, rising to the position of senior vice president for supply chain and operations.