Mr Spicer, whose press appearances have been plagued by multiple gaffes, has been temporarily dropped from running his daily press briefings and will be replaced by Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders for the entirety of this week.
According to White House insiders, the general perception is Mr Spicer has been “benched” during a massively decisive week which has seen the White House subject to heavy scrutiny over the sacking of Mr Comey.
A White House official told CNN Ms Sanders’ performances, which have already garnered praise, would be closely monitored by those in the highest tiers of the administration. Another source said the big question is whether his time on the bench is temporary or permanent.
According to another White House official, Ms Sanders, who appears altogether more composed and polished than her boss so far, offered a “significant contrast” during her first briefing on Wednesday and Mr Spicer’s hiatus “could not have come at a worse time for him”.
Mr Spicer is carrying out Navy Reserve duty, where he has served as a commander for almost twenty years, during his time off from press duties. One source said: “He has taken his Navy duties very seriously in all the time I’ve known him. So if he’s on duty, he’s on duty, and I wouldn’t read more into that in itself.“
But many argue Mr Spicer, the 30th White House press secretary, has been steadily losing his credibility since taking up the role. The 45-year-old has drawn criticism for how he handled the termination of Mr Comey – he reportedly hid behind bushes near the White House as reporters attempted to question him about it.
Nevertheless, a White House official has now taken issue with the exact details of Mr Spicer’s whereabouts when he retreated to a nearby hedge. As such the initial Washington Post story, a colourful descriptive piece, has been amended to reflect that Mr Spicer was hiding “among” the bushes rather than “in the bushes”.
Mr Spicer’s blunder is by no means his first. Mr Spicer’s career has been beset with a series of gaffes which arguably began during his first press briefing when he contradicted available evidence and claimed President Trump drew “the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe”. Senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway later sought to justify his explanation as providing the media with “alternative facts”, while Mr Spicer himself was forced to apologise, saying he has been given bad information.
Mr Spicer, who once called Canadian President Justin Trueau “Joe” in a briefing, also drew fierce criticism after he claimed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was guilty of worse acts than Adolf Hitler and Hitler, who gassed millions of Jews in the Holocaust, did not use chemical…