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Washington (AFP) - Promising "never" to lie and saying she prays for coronavirus victims, new White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany hit a strikingly sunny tone on Friday in her debut press conference.
The White House briefing room has symbolized the tempestuous, often outright hostile relationship between the media and President Donald Trump, who has broken with convention to act as his own spokesman -- and lead a relentless campaign of insults against the media.
Things got off to a bad start right after Trump was sworn in, when then-chief spokesman Sean Spicer made the laughably false boast that the president attracted the "largest audience to ever witness an inauguration."
Things didn't get better with the next two press secretaries. Briefings -- a daily tradition under previous presidents -- ended altogether more than a year ago, leaving the famous briefing room a forlorn, abandoned place.
So McEnany made instant headlines when she declared from the podium to reporters: "I will never lie to you, you have my word on that."
"We do plan to continue these," McEnany, 31, said of the briefings.
- Access to president -
Trump's staff argue that press secretary briefings have not been important because the president himself gives unprecedented access to reporters.
It's true that he has set records for the number of press conferences, interviews on friendly outlets, and impromptu gatherings with journalists.
However these sessions are often chaotic -- such as when staged next to his noisy, idling helicopter -- and marked by intensely combative exchanges.
Ironically, the coronavirus pandemic this year breathed new life into the briefing room, with Trump and senior officials holding daily updates there until last week.
But that also ended amid concern that the president was irking Americans with his highly politicized performances.
His image suffered a self-inflicted wound last Thursday when he made the bizarre statement -- in the briefing room -- that coronavirus patients could be injected with disinfectants.
- Polite, potent -
McEnany stood out Friday for her steady politeness on the podium, avoiding the kind of insults that her boss regularly uses, like "fake news," or calling reporters "dishonest" and "disgraceful" on live national television.
A graduate of Georgetown University and Harvard Law School, McEnany won attention for fierce defense of Trump while a paid commentator on CNN, which is often critical of the president. She also made frequent guest appearances on Trump-friendly Fox News.
She then joined the Republican National Committee communications team and became the Trump 2020 reelection campaign spokeswoman.
McEnany has been criticized over past comments including support for Trump's long-held conspiracy theory that former president Barack Obama was not born in the United States -- a fabrication seen by many as racist.
Now she comes in as an effective and battle-hardened operator when Trump is trying to overcome widespread disapproval for his handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
In contrast to Trump, who is criticized by some for showing insufficient sympathy to the sick, she told reporters: "I pray regularly for those affected by the coronavirus."
Whether McEnany fares better than her predecessors and whether the more upbeat atmosphere lasts remains to be seen in a White House known for drama.
But she sought to stamp her authority on the position, underlining her closeness to Trump.
"I'm normally with the president in the Oval Office, so I'm consistently with him, absorbing his thinking," she said. "It's my mission to bring you the mindset of the president."
Then she signed off with a call to watch Trump's appearance on Fox News on Sunday -- and a reminder to reporters that she is also human.
"I'm going to cut this short and go see my little five month old."