Meet Kayleigh McEnany, the combative 31-year-old Trump defender and next White House press secretary

Kayleigh McEnany

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Kayleigh McEnany
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Scott W. Grau/Getty Images
  • Kayleigh McEnany, a spokesperson for President Donald Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign, is replacing Stephanie Grisham as the White House press secretary, The New York Times reported on Tuesday.
  • McEnany, 31, is an outspoken, combative defender of the president who gained recognition during the 2016 election for frequently appearing as a Trump surrogate on cable news networks.
  • Since endorsing Trump in early 2016, McEnany has been a right-wing talking head on CNN, hosted Trump TV, served as the Republican National Committee’s spokeswoman, and been a spokeswoman for Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign.
  • Here’s what we know about McEnany’s rise.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Kayleigh McEnany, a spokesperson for President Donald Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign, is replacing Stephanie Grisham as the White House press secretary, The New York Times reported on Tuesday.

McEnany, 31, is an outspoken, combative defender of the president who gained recognition during the 2016 election for frequently appearing as a Trump surrogate on cable news networks.

She’ll be Trump’s fourth press secretary in under four years, succeeding Stephanie Grisham, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Sean Spicer in a communications office that has experienced near-constant turnover.

McEnany drew early attention as a right-wing talking head at CNN, where she got into more than a few heated exchanges with other personalities like New York Times columnist Charles Blow and CNN host Van Jones. She’s since hosted Trump TV, served as the Republican National Committee’s spokeswoman, and been a spokeswoman for Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign.

Most recently, she made waves by falsely claiming on February 25 that “we will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here” because of Trump’s leadership. This was a day after US federal health officials announced it wasn’t a matter of if, but when and how severe the coronavirus outbreak would be in the US.

Here’s what we know about McEnany:


McEnany was born in 1988 and grew up in Florida, where she attended the Academy of the Holy Names, a private Catholic school for girls.


She received a Bachelor’s of Science in international politics from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, and also spent a year studying at Oxford University in the UK.

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McEnany and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
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Getty

Source: Georgetown University


She interned for a number of high-ranking politicians, including former President George W. Bush. McEnany volunteered for the Bush reelection campaign as a high school sophomore in 2004.

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Former President George W. Bush at the Ronald Reagan Library.
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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Source: University of Miami School of Law


She went on to intern in Bush’s White House communications office, and once escorted quarterback Eli Manning to the Oval Office.

Source: University of Miami School of Law


After graduating from Georgetown in 2010, McEnany worked as a producer on former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee’s TV show.

Source: University of Miami School of Law


She worked her way up the network ladder, appearing more frequently as a conservative pundit on more popular shows over the years. The first appearance she posted on her Facebook page was on Fox News in 2011.

Source: Facebook


McEnany announced her support for then-Republican presidential candidate Trump in February 2016. Trump clinched the party’s nomination that May, when his last opponent, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, dropped out of the Republican primary.

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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

McEnany also went to law school after finishing her undergraduate work. She started out at the University of Miami School of Law and eventually transferred to Harvard Law School, graduating with a J.D. in May 2016.

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Darren McCollester/Stringer/Getty Images

In July 2016, McEnany got engaged to St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Sean Gilmartin.


During the campaign, McEnany frequently appeared as a Trump surrogate, most prominently on CNN, where she was a paid commentator who promoted Trump’s platform and debated with left-leaning and anti-Trump commentators.

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Screenshot via CNN


Throughout her tenure at CNN, McEnany became known for her contentious spats with multiple personalities and guests. In February, she had a heated exchange with New York Times columnist Charles Blow on “CNN Tonight with Don Lemon.”

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CNN/Screenshot


“Don’t do that,” Blow said when McEnany briefly touched his arm while claiming liberals and Trump critics had “sinister” motivations behind their objections to Trump. “Don’t touch me and say that’s your ‘sinister motivations’,” he said, as she brushed aside his frustration.


In March 2017, she apologized on the air after falsely claiming that journalist Daniel Pearl, who was murdered by jihadists in 2002, died while former President Barack Obama was in office. McEnany said she had meant to refer to James Foley, who was slain by ISIS in 2014, not Pearl.

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Daniel Pearl.

Source: Washington Post


McEnany frequently sparred with CNN host Van Jones — particularly after the November election — with Jones often accusing McEnany of twisting his words and misrepresenting his statements.

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Screenshot via CNN


McEnany has continued advocating for Trump’s agenda since he took office, but on August 5, she suddenly left her job at CNN.


On August 6, she appeared in a pro-Trump video in which she touted all of Trump’s accomplishments from the previous week.

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Donald J. Trump

Source: Business Insider


Some, including former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, compared the segment to state TV that airs in places like Russia.

Source: Business Insider


In August 2017, the Republican National Committee announced that McEnany would be joining its ranks as a national spokeswoman.


“I am excited to be joining the RNC at such an important and historic time in our country,” she said in a press release. “I’m eager to talk about Republican ideas and values and have important discussions about issues affecting Americans across this country.”


McEnany has made headlines in recent years for making a host of misleading, false, or incendiary claims.

Watch this extraordinary exchange on @CuomoPrimeTime. @KayleighMcenany says the president has never lied. “He doesn’t lie. The press lies.” pic.twitter.com/5ruBpUoezd

– Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) August 29, 2019


McEnany was ridiculed by critics for claiming that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s June 2018 victory over then-Rep. Joe Crowley in their Democratic primary was evidence of a “red tsunami.” Characteristic of McEnany, she refused to concede her error and instead insisted democratic socialist’s win was evidence of a GOP resurgence.

STUNNING! That so-called blue wave? More like a red tsunami… https://t.co/cIeI1II52U

– Kayleigh McEnany (@kayleighmcenany) June 27, 2018


In July 2018, she falsely claimed Democrats wanted Russian President Vladimir Putin to send ‘a few hundred thousand” Russians to the US to vote illegally in American elections.


McEnany falsely claimed on February 25 that “we will not see diseases like the coronavirus come [to the US]” because of Trump’s leadership. This was a day after US federal health officials announced it wasn’t a matter of if, but when and how severe the coronavirus outbreak would be in the US.

On the same day Larry Kudlow said coronavirus was “contained” on Feb. 25th, Trump’s campaign spox made an even more bold claim. “We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here..and isn’t it refreshing when contrasting it with the awful presidency of President Obama.” pic.twitter.com/O0DDH3Rvkw

– andrew kaczynski???? (@KFILE) April 4, 2020


Trump’s incoming White House chief of staff, former Rep. Mark Meadows, hired McEnany in April to replace Stephanie Grisham as White House press secretary.