White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah will fill in for Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders this morning in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House. Before joining the administration, Shah called President Trump a “deplorable,” and also worked on campaign ads against him.
Here’s everything you need to know:
1. He’s Deputy Press Secretary, but Recently his Role has Grown
Shah is the White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary and Deputy Assistant to the President, but he has appeared regularly as a White House surrogate on TV. Representing the White House on television is usually reserved for more senior staffers.
In an interview with National Public Radio after the State of the Union, Shah said Trump’s speech was “unifying.”
“I do think it was a very unifying address. There was a lot that Democrats could have embraced. They seemed unwilling to want to,” he said to host Steve Inskeep.
He has supported and promoted Trump’s immigration views.
“Illegal immigration can pose a public safety and terrorism threat to the United States. That report reinforces that point,” he said to Chris Cuomo.
On NPR, he said:
“Well, the president crafted out a pretty hard line during the campaign. He talked about building a wall. He talked about deporting criminal illegal immigrants. That was certainly part of the proposal that he introduced during the campaign, and he won the election. These are mainstream proposals that the president ran on, won on and he believes the American people – we believe the American people want.”
2. He’s Always Been Interested in Politics, and is the First Indian-American in the Press Office
Shah’s parents were born in India, his father in Mumbai and his mother in Gujarat. They studied in the United States, moved back to India, then moved back to the United States in the 1970s. His father was an engineer and his mother was a dentist, though later in life his father opened a chain of retail stores.
Shah was born in Connecticut in 1984 and attended Brien McMahon High School, where he was named as an Ettinger Scholar. He volunteered for Representative Chris Shays, then attended Cornell University, where he received his bachelor’s degree in Government in 2006.
Shah is highest ranking Indian-American to work in the White House press office.
3. He Has Not Always Been Supportive of Trump, and Once Called Him “Deplorable”
New York magazine obtained private messages showing that Shah called President Trump a “deplorable.”
On October 7, 2016, after the Washington Post published the Access Hollywood tape, in which listeners can hear Donald Trump discuss harassing women, Shah sent a message to Andrew Hemming, a senior RNC officer. He said:
“I’m kinda enjoying this, some justice. I honestly don’t think it’s the worst thing he’s done but he somehow got passes for the other acts,” according to New York.
He added, “Trump is a deplorable.”
The year before, Shah worked with Hemming to create an ad for the Jeb Bush campaign. On December 15, 2015, he sent an email with a CNN transcript where Trump speaks positively about President Obama and Hillary Clinton. Shah asked Hemming for footage of the interview, which was provided and used in a Jeb Bush campaign ad titled “Happy Anniversary, Donald!” released on the seven-year anniversary of the CNN comments.
Staffers are confused about why the White House press office sees such a high amount of turnover. So far, there have been two press secretaries and three communications directors.
“It’s because it’s filled with people who loathe the president or simply lack the competence needed to present a coherent strategy,” a staffer said to New York.
4. He Voted for George Bush, and Worked for Jeb
During high school, Shah volunteered for Representative Chris Shays and interned for Senator Joe Lieberman. He cast his first vote for George W. Bush, and interned in the White House in 2005. In 2010, Shah worked as campaign spokesman for New Mexico candidate for governor Susana Martinez.
During the 2012 election, Shah was working as deputy research director at the Republican National Committee. He then left to co-found America Rising, a right-wing political action committee.
During the 2016 election campaign cycle, Shah worked for Jeb Bush’s campaign, then rejoined the RNC in February 2015, working on opposition research.
Shah joined the Trump administration almost immediately after Trump took office. He was first Deputy Communications Director and Research Director at the White House, before being promoted to Deputy Press Secretary.
5. He’s Not the Only Staffer Who Has Disparaged Trump
“Plenty of people in the West Wing hate him right now,” a staffer said to New York magazine, referring to President Trump.
“We all thought he was a moron. He’s by no means a stupid guy, but he was such a pain in the ass and stubborn,” a former adviser said about Trump on the campaign trail.
In response to the messages from Shah, White House communications director told New York:
“Raj Shah is a talented operative and skilled communicator. We have always known about his previous roles and are so pleased he is using his unparalleled capabilities to advance the agenda of President Trump, whom he has tremendous respect for. Perhaps if the leakers trying to undermine him were as talented and smart as Raj, they would be here fighting for the American people every day, rather than trying desperately to remain relevant by spreading information that Raj himself shared many months ago. Raj’s skills as a press secretary are only surpassed by his stellar character.”
Vince President Mike Pence has reportedly called Trump a “moron,” National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster has questioned his intelligence, and according to Michael Wolff, others in the administration have called him an “idiot” and a “dope.”