Spicer off-camera, VA secretary on-camera in new White House effort

Published 4:00 PM EDT, Wed May 31, 2017
PHOTO: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Story highlights

Shulkin briefed reporters Wednesday on camera

Sean Spicer spoke to the media off camera for 12 minutes

(CNN) —  

Secretary David Shulkin on Wednesday briefed reporters about changes at the Department of Veterans Affairs, putting a different face behind the White House podium as top aides consider reshaping the way the Trump administration briefs the press daily.

Sean Spicer, the aide usually tasked with going camera before reporters, also stepped behind the podium on Wednesday, but the White House press secretary offered a 12-minute briefing that remained off camera and contained little new information.

Spicer, aides said earlier this month, will likely appear on camera less in the coming weeks as the White House considers how to revamp a communications department.

White House communications director Mike Dubke resigned earlier this week and Spicer himself said on Tuesday that Cabinet secretaries will begin to do more briefings.

Putting the oft-behind the scenes Shulkin on-camera also stopped the White House from making Trump available on Wednesday. A White House official told CNN that Trump would not do a bilateral news conference with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc because Shulkin went before the cameras.

Presidents often do bilateral news conferences when a foreign dignitary visits the White House.

Shulkin pushed for new Veterans Affairs accountability legislation during the briefing, saying that current rules make it difficult for his department to fire employees who break the rules, including the fact that the VA had to wait more than a month to fire someone who was caught watching pornography while helping a veteran.

Shulkin also announced the soft launch of a White House complaint line for the Department of Veterans Affairs, a program which they hope to have fully operational by August.

But when Shulkin opened the floor to questions, reporters pushed him more on news of the day – namely Trump’s expected decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement – not his announcements on Veterans Affairs.

“As the secretary of Veterans Affairs, I’m focused on those environmental issues that impact veterans, and our studies are focused on usually the chemical and the environmental impacts that are used on the battlefield,” Shulkin said, punting a question about the climate agreement. “Those are the ones that I continue to be focused on that, and beyond that, it really is beyond my scope as secretary.”