The incoming Trump administration has just signaled its first move against the LGBT community. Did you miss it? It was buried under news of the president-elect’s Twitter rants against civil rights leader John Lewis on MLK Weekend as Democrats and others drop plans to attend the inauguration.
As Esquire first reported over the weekend and Trump adviser Reince Priebus confirmed on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” the Trump team is considering moving the White House press corps from on-site access in the West Wing and to instead hold briefings in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
Priebus defended the idea by pointing out the EEOB is on White House grounds, so it isn’t really a move, and would be beneficial because four times the number of reporters would have access.
“I think people should be encouraged that so many people in the press want to participate,” Preibus said. “We had 500 or 600 folks at the press conference last week. We started thinking: ‘Man, if we can have more people involved instead of less, wouldn’t it be a good thing?'”
No, it wouldn’t. The press secretary isn’t going to extend the White House briefing to four times its length to accommodate four times the number of reporters, nor should he, because the briefing would become so bloated it would obscure, rather the clarify, the administration’s views. What would happen with four times the number of reporters is the opportunity for anyone to ask a question would decrease significantly.
As reporter Glenn Thrush pointed out on Twitter, the expulsion of the press corps from the West Wing to the EEOB seems like an invitation to drown out the press with Trump supporters who will create news organizations and send “reporters” to the briefings.
Sean Spicer, the incoming press secretary, foreshadowed the greater number of questioners in the briefing room who would be sympathetic to Trump in a statement explaining the potential move, which apparently hasn’t yet been finalized.
“While no decisions have been made, there is enormous interest in covering Donald Trump and his agenda to improve the lives of every American,” Spicer said. “The current briefing room only has 49 seats so we have looked at rooms within the White House to conduct briefings that have additional capacity to accommodate members of media including talk radio, bloggers and others.”
Another important factor is the symbolic nature of allowing the press corps in the White House with the president — a practice that began with Teddy Roosevelt and continues to this day. Guided by the principles of freedom of the press and freedom of speech, the press is at the White House to heighten its ability to ask the administration tough questions, to be close to key sources and to deliver messages to the American people.
I participated last week in the White House Correspondents Association’s annual town hall, where reporters voiced anxiety about the change because we know the Trump team wants to shake things up and maybe even hold some briefings off camera. A few reporters brought up rumors the Trump team wanted to kick us out of the White House because the incoming administration wants the real estate, but they weren’t considered serious because WHCA President Jeff Mason said that didn’t come up in discussions between the board and the transition team.
Amid news reports with senior administration officials on the record asserting the change could happen, Mason met with Spicer for two hours on Sunday, then issued a statement making clear the position of the press corps.
“I emphasized the importance of the White House press briefing room and noted that it is open to all journalists who seek access now,” Mason said. “I made clear that the WHCA would view it as unacceptable if the incoming administration sought to move White House reporters out of the press work space behind the press briefing room. Access in the West Wing to senior administration officials, including the press secretary, is critical to transparency and to journalists’ ability to do their jobs.”
Here’s why the potential move is anti-LGBT. For eight years of the Obama administration, the Washington Blade used the White House news briefings to get clarity on LGBT rights advances, and, for several years, why they weren’t happening as quickly as many wanted.
There’s a chance — if Family Research Council President Tony Perkins has his way — that we could see much of that progress reversed under Trump. If the Washington Blade were drowned out at the news conference by four times the number of reporters there are now, the opportunity for us to ask questions would be limited, maybe non-existent. I imagine mainstream news outlets that occasionally asked a question on LGBT rights would similarly be drowned out by Trump supporters-turned-reporters in the news briefings.
Our readers would lose a direct line of contact to the White House to highlight any loss of LGBT rights — whether that’s a plan to sign the First Amendment Defense Act, undoing guidance protecting transgender students or the insertion of religious exemptions into regulations barring anti-LGBT discrimination.
The Bill Clinton administration faced criticism during its early years for locking a door that gives reporters access to staffers. That seems quaint in comparison to Trump’s plan to water down coverage of his policies — including any reversal of LGBT rights — by expelling the press entirely from the White House.