There was a lot of big news on Friday, but none bigger for The Daily Banter‘s White House beat than the resignation of White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, and the naming of Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest (who now has the all-time greatest contradictory name in press secretary history) as Carney’s replacement. We’ve got exclusive analysis of Carney’s resignation by some of the reporters whom he’ll be leaving behind, plus what we can expect from Earnest, who will accompany President Obama on his European trip next week.
Coming, as it did, on the same day as V.A. Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation, many have been wondering if there’s something more to the timing of Carney’s resignation, in addition to the sort of palace intrigue speculation that occurs any time there’s a move like this. The short answer is no, there’s really nothing more to see here. As the President said in his remarks, Carney’s been on the job a long time, first in Vice President Biden’s office, and then three and a half years as White House press secretary. President Obama also stressed, in his remarks, the strain that such a job puts on a young family.
CBS News Chief White House Correspondent Major Garrett agrees. “I have been expecting Jay to leave for at least two months,” Garrett said via email. “It was clear the job was taking a toll, and he was looking for a way to spend more time with his family. It’s a hard job, a real grinder and, as such, this is no surprise.”
Paul Brandus, who runs the popular West Wing Report Twitter feed, also saw this coming. “He’d been in the job longer than most predecessors,” Brandus tells me. “On CSPAN the other day I said ‘I expect he’ll leave any day now.'”
“It’s one of the most thankless jobs in Washington and he did what he’s supposed to do: say as little as possible. And that’s exactly what he did.” Paul adds.
CBS Radio News’ Mark Knoller, the unofficial “Dean” of the White House press corps, says “It’s definitely a burn-out job. Nearly 3 ½ years in the job is a long time and I believe him when he says it puts a strain on family life.”
Carney also says there’s nothing deeper at play. “Just look at what the president said,” he says, via email. The President also expressed his disappointment at learning of Carney’s decision, during a meeting in the Oval Office in April.
If anything, Carney stuck around longer than anyone could have expected. Two years into his tenure, the point at which Robert Gibbs resigned, Carney began a period of mortal combat from the podium that was ushered in by the fake Benghazi emails, and continued unabated through a press-fueled Scandalabra that came full circle this spring with another Benghazi email story. Along the way, Carney found his fighting legs, but whereas Gibbs relished the fight, Carney was pushed into it, Bill Bixby-style.
As for the timing of Carney’s announcement with Shinseki’s, WWR‘s Brandus surmises “Maybe they get a ‘two-for-one’ kind of deal on these kind of ‘people leaving (fleeing)’ stories.”
Garrett says they made the announcement along with Shinseki’s “because they could and because this White House, like all White Houses, hates undiluted bad news.”
Knoller adds that “since Josh Earnest will be spokesman on the president’s Europe trip starting Monday evening, the changeover was announced today. Don’t think there was anything more to it. Certainly won’t overshadow the Shinseki resignation.”
I would only add that, knowing Carney, he was probably not all that broken up about being moved below the fold.
As for Josh Earnest, his selection seems like a natural one, given his resumé. Major Garrett says “Josh will bring a wealth of personal experience with President Obama that dates back to the formative days of the campaign in Iowa. He is one of the last remaining early and true believers of that era – meaning he has an institution knowledge, a rapport and a sense of loyalty hard to equal in the West Wing.”
“Josh has shown himself to be a loyal Deputy Press Secretary and he handles himself skillfully at the lectern,” Knoller says. “He knows the Obama White House as well as anyone. He has a good relationship with reporters. It should be a seamless turnover.”
According to Brandus, though, “Josh doesn’t have Jay’s experience but he’s a nice guy, very approachable. But his handling of the job won’t be any different. The job is to protect the President and do no harm.”
One thing reporters can expect from Josh is for him to continue a popular Carney tradition. While Gibbs would spend a good two-thirds of his briefings on the first two rows, Carney made a habit of spreading the wealth. That practice endeared him to almost everyone, including the more selfless denizens of the front row.
Asked if he’d encourage Josh to do the same, Carney said “Definitely,” and added “It’s a tough balance. Because the outlets represented in the front rows invest the most resources in covering the white house, you feel an obligation to call on them every day. But they also tend to hog time, and ask the same questions, which takes away opportunities from the middle and back. So I tried to move up and back early – with the goal of getting to everyone in the front eventually, but not before spreading it around.”
Even if Josh was next in line, though, his selection couldn’t have been better from a strategic standpoint. I think Earnest will surprise people who are expecting a diet of bland boilerplate. As deputy, his job has been to stick closer to boilerplate than even the press secretary does, but as Garrett says, Josh has a second-nature familiarity with the President that goes back a long way, and should well-equip him to think on his feet. Earnest has a sharp, biting wit, and his experience as a political animal, as opposed to Carney’s journalistic pedigree, gives Josh the partisan edge that will be required going into the midterms, and through another endless Benghazi dog-and-pony show.