An Indian American will soon be seen behind the famed lectern of the White House briefing room as the president’s spokesperson for the first time, with President Donald Trump naming Raj Shah as his principal deputy press secretary in a shakeup of his communications team on Tuesday.
Shah had previously served as deputy assistant to the president and deputy communications director.
His new position propels him to the number two slot in the White House press shop, a position formerly held by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who is now the press secretary, and top presidential spokesperson.
Shah’s promotion also makes him the senior-most Indian American in the Trump White House, outside of the regular federal administrative structure, in which Nikki Haley reigns at the top as US ambassador to the UN, a cabinet-rank office never held by an Indian American.
Hope Hicks, a trusted Trump aide from his campaign, is now formally the White House communications director, succeeding the flamboyant Anthony Scaramucci whose reign was abruptly halted on its 11th day because of an expletive-laden late-night rant to a reporter, about his own White House colleagues.
There were two other changes in the press team — Mercedes Schlapp, a Fox news contributor, will serve as assistant to the president and senior advisor for strategic communications, and Steven Cheung is the new special assistant to the president and director of strategic response.
Scaramucci’s firing was preceded by the exit of Sean Spicer, then press secretary, and followed by that of Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff. Both of them were a team who had worked together at the Republican National Committee, where Shah was a rising star, in charge of digging up dirt on rivals.
A graduate of Cornell, Raj Shah co-founded right-leaning opposition research firm America Rising LLC, where he developed the organisation’s Hillary Clinton opposition research book, which is essentially all the dirt that could be used against her, and was possibly.
Shah, 32, was born to parents from Gujarat who migrated to the US in the 1980s and was raised in Connecticut.
His father, an engineer, moved to Mumbai at a young age while his mother hails from Bhujpur in Kutch.