A graduate of Georgetown University and Harvard University, she began her media career as a producer for Huckabee on Fox News and later worked as a commentator on CNN. In 2017, she was appointed national spokesperson for the Republican National Committee and on April 7, 2020, was appointed as White House Press Secretary in the Trump Administration.
In 2012, she promoted birther conspiracy theories about President Barack Obama. At the start of the 2016 presidential election, she was critical of then-candidate Trump, calling his remarks about Mexican immigrants “racist” and suggesting it was “inauthentic” to call him a Republican. However, during the campaign, she became a staunch pro-Trump commentator. At her first appearance as Trump’s press secretary, she was questioned by reporters and promised she would never lie.
Born and raised in Tampa, Florida, McEnany is the daughter of commercial roofing company owner Michael McEnany and Leanne McEnany. McEnany was educated at the Academy of the Holy Names, a Catholic preparatory school in Tampa. After leaving school, she majored in international politics at Georgetown University‘s School of Foreign Service in Washington, D.C. and she studied abroad at St Edmund Hall, Oxford. While at Oxford, she was taught politics by future British Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds. After graduating from Georgetown, McEnany spent three years as a producer on the Mike Huckabee Show.
From there, McEnany enrolled at the University of Miami School of Law, before transferring to Harvard Law School. Huckabee said that “one of the reasons [McEnany] went on to law school was because she didn’t see she was going to have an on-air opportunity at Fox anytime soon.” At the Miami School of Law, McEnany was a recipient of the Bruce J. Winick Award for Excellence, a scholarship awarded to students in the top 1% of their class. She graduated from Harvard in 2016.
As a college student, McEnany interned for several politicians, including Tom Gallagher, Adam Putnam and George W. Bush, and later worked in the White House Office of Communications, where she wrote media briefings.
While in law school, McEnany appeared on CNN as a paid commentator and although not initially a supporter of Donald Trump, went on to support him in the 2016 presidential election. However, in early 2015, before becoming a Trump supporter, McEnany was highly critical of him, declaring on CNN and Fox that “Donald Trump has shown himself to be a showman” and it was “unfortunate” and “inauthentic” to call him a Republican. McEnany called his comments about Mexican immigrants “racist.” She began supporting Trump after receiving advice over cocktails from Michael Marcantonio, a fellow summer associate at a law firm and a Democrat. He told her “Donald Trump is going to be your nominee,” and if “a smart, young, blond Harvard graduate” wanted “to get on television and have a career as a political pundit, you would be wise to be an early backer”. According to The Guardian, she took this advice.
On August 5, 2017, McEnany left her position at CNN. The following day, she hosted a 90-second webcast, Real News Update on Trump’s personal Facebook page. She praised the president throughout the segment, saying she had brought the “real news” to the American people.
Former employer Mike Huckabee has called her a “meticulous researcher” and “extraordinarily prepared.” Her rapid occupational success was noted by Van Jones, CNN commentator and liberal activist who worked with her at CNN, “I’m not trying to defend the messaging, but what I hope people can acknowledge is there’s very few people in either party who can accomplish what Kayleigh has accomplished in such a short time… People keep taking her lightly, and they keep regretting it.”
Republican political strategist
McEnany has been closely associated with the Republican Party since she was in college. She was critical of the Obama presidency, and in 2012 posted several tweets questioning Obama’s birthplace, echoing the “birther” conspiracy theorist movement. In 2012, McEnany tweeted about Obama’s half-brother Malik Obama, who lives in Kenya: “How I Met Your Brother — Never mind, forgot he’s still in that hut in Kenya”.Kayleigh McEnany speaking at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland.
In 2017, she responded to claims it was hypocritical of Trump to visit his golf course while president by mistakenly claiming that President Obama rushed off to a golf game after the 2002 beheading of Daniel Pearl. Obama was a state senator at the time of Pearl’s murder. McEnany later apologized for the comment, noting that Obama went golfing after the 2014 murder of another journalist James Foley who was beheaded by ISIS in Syria. Obama, who was vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard at the time, admitted that he should have “anticipated the optics” of golfing immediately after making a press statement on Foley’s death.
On August 7, 2017, the Republican National Committee (RNC) appointed McEnany as its national spokesperson. In 2017, as RNC spokeswoman, McEnany supported Trump amid a bipartisan backlash in response to the president’s comments about a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which he suggested that white supremacists and counterprotesters shared blame for violence; in a Tweet, McEnany wrote that the Republican Party supported the president’s “message of love and inclusiveness.”
Despite Trump’s well-documented history of false and misleading statements, in August 2019, McEnany told CNN’s Chris Cuomo: “I don’t believe the president has lied.” Journalist Elizabeth Williamson opined “her defence of her boss — and her castigations of the press — appear to be unperturbed by (Trump’s) shifting narratives, (his) breaks from logic and (his) flights of fantasy.”
In the weeks prior to her appointment as White House press secretary, McEnany praised Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying, “This president will always put America first, he will always protect American citizens. We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here, we will not see terrorism, and isn’t that refreshing when contrasting it with the awful presidency of Barack Obama?” In a radio interview on the “Pat Miller Show” on March 11, McEnany said Democrats were trying “to politicize” the coronavirus and that Democrats were almost “rooting for this outcome.”
In the weeks following, McEnany was criticized for her remarks. In a USA Today article, author Grant Stern said “Kayleigh McEnany is coming to the White House with new “alternative facts” about #coronavirus. The rest of the world calls them lies.” McEnany responded the criticisms were “ridiculous spin”.
White House Press Secretary
McEnany at a press conference in May 2020
After Mark Meadows replaced Mick Mulvaney as White House Chief of Staff in April 2020, Meadows’s first personnel change was hiring McEnany as White House Press Secretary on April 7, 2020, which was officially announced the next day. Stephanie Grisham, who had served in the role and as White House communications director since June 2019, became Melania Trump‘s chief of staff and spokesperson.
Two months into her tenure, the Associated Press wrote of McEnany, she “has made clear from her first briefing that she’s willing to defend her boss’s view of himself as well as his most flagrant misstatements. In exchange, she frequently cites her proximity to the president — the coin of the realm in Washington — as evidence that she can speak credibly to his thinking and intent.”
In April 2020, McEnany defended Trump’s assertion that the World Health Organization had shown a “clear bias towards China” and said that the WHO put Americans at risk by “repeating inaccurate claims peddled by China during the coronavirus pandemic” and “opposing the United States’ life-saving travel restrictions.”
When Trump was criticized by experts for suggesting at a press conference that the coronavirus could be treated with disinfectant injections, McEnany said that the president’s remarks were simply taken out of context. Trump later said he was asking a sarcastic question, although there was no indication in his statement that he was making a joke.
On May 1, 2020, as part of her first public press briefing, McEnany was asked by an Associated Press reporter: “Will you pledge to never lie to us from that podium?” Without hesitation, McEnany replied: “I will never lie to you. You have my word on that.” Various liberal news media sources, however, proceeded to claim McEnany made a number of false claims in the same briefing. On the subject of Trump’s responses to the coronavirus pandemic, she stated: “This president has always sided on the side of data”. In response to allegations of Trump’s sexual misconduct, McEnany said: “He has always told the truth.”
Amidst reports on May 8, 2020, that the White House was “shelving” the release of COVID-19 re-opening guidelines, McEnany said that the guidelines had not been approved by CDC Director Robert Redfield. Following Associated Press reports that Redfield had previously cleared the release of the guidance, Redfield addressed the issue personally, saying that the documents were still in “draft form” and had been released for “interagency review”, not for public dissemination. That same week, Obama, in a private phone call with members of his former administration, described the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus crisis as “an absolute chaotic disaster”. McEnany responded the next day by providing a statement to CNN claiming that, to the contrary, the “response has been unprecedented and saved American lives.”
In May 2020, McEnany defended Trump’s false accusation that Joe Scarborough had a person murdered, despite offering no evidence in support of the accusation. The same month, McEnany defended claims that Trump made about the dangers of vote by mail, repeating the president’s inaccurate claims that vote by mail has a “high propensity for voter fraud”; McEnany herself has voted by mail 11 times in 10 years.
In June 2020, she defended the decision by the Trump administration to forcibly remove peaceful protestors using smoke canisters, pepper balls, riot shields, batons and officers on horseback and rubber bullets so that Trump could stage a photo op in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square in Washington. She likened Trump’s action to that of Winston Churchill walking the streets to survey bomb damage during World War II. When General Jim Mattis, former Secretary of Defense in the Trump administration, condemned Trump’s action, McEnany described Mattis’s comments as “little more than a self-promotional stunt to appease the DC elite.”
McEnany married Sean Gilmartin, a pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team, in November 2017. The couple have one daughter, Blake, born in November 2019. Due to a BRCA mutation that put her at high risk of developing breast cancer, McEnany underwent a preventative double mastectomy in 2018.
- The New American Revolution: The Making of a Populist Movement (2018)