WHITE HOUSE - White House press secretary Sarah Sanders will be departing her post within weeks, U.S. President Donald Trump announced Thursday.
"Our wonderful Sarah Huckabee Sanders will be leaving the White House at the end of the month and going home to the Great State of Arkansas," Trump said on his personal Twitter account.
Sanders' father, Mike Huckabee, was Arkansas' governor for 11 years.
The next gubernatorial election in that state is in 2022.
Minutes later in the White House East Room, at an event to encourage hiring of former prisoners, Trump called Sanders to the lectern, praising her as a "warrior."
"We've been through a lot together and she's tough, but she's good," the president said, reiterating he hoped she would run for governor in her home state.
"I'll try not to get emotional because I know crying can make us look weak sometimes," Sanders began after Trump asked her to say a few words.
Sanders called her tenure as White House press secretary "the honor of a lifetime, the opportunity of a lifetime," adding, "I've loved every minute —even the hard minutes."
The president gave Sanders a kiss on the head and she gave him a hug before stepping away from the podium.
Sanders has been one of the president's most trusted aides during her tenure in the West Wing from the start of the Trump presidency, rising from principal deputy press secretary when Sean Spicer was the top spokesman.
Sanders has been a fierce defender of the president and frequently tangled with White House reporters during contentious news conferences, chastising them for negative coverage of Trump and attempting to correct what she considered were mistakes in their reporting.
Commentators criticized her for straining credulity on behalf of an unconventional boss who regularly unleashes verbal attacks on political foes, foreign governments and journalists and who has repeatedly labeled the press the "enemy of the people."
The media briefings, once a regular and popular event on afternoon cable TV news channels, increasingly became infrequent and have disappeared altogether in the past three months.
There was also criticism that Sanders did not really care what the audience in the briefing room or watching at home thought of her answers, and that the performances were merely for an audience of one sitting in the Oval Office.
Sanders, instead, has made frequent live appearances from the White House's north lawn on the administration's favorite channel, Fox News, usually stopping to answer some questions from other journalists on the way back into the West Wing.
Correspondents have complained the ad hoc driveway encounters are no substitute for regularly scheduled briefings indoors.
"Sarah Sanders did more to diminish the office of press secretary in two years than every press secretary combined since Ron Ziegler (who held the job in the Nixon administration)," according to Joe Lockhart, who was White House press secretary under Bill Clinton.
"More importantly, she contributed to the diminishing of U.S. credibility around the world to both allies and foes alike," Lockhart told VOA.
'Slip of the tongue'
Special counsel Robert Mueller's report noted Sanders had not been truthful when she told reporters that the administration heard from "countless members" of the Federal Bureau of Investigation supporting Trump's decision to fire the bureau's director, James Comey.
The remark was a "slip of the tongue," she told the special counsel's office, according to the Mueller report.
Sanders has lasted in the stress-filled position longer than many anticipated. White House staffers last year had expected Sanders, who is 36 and the mother of three young children, to depart following the November midterm elections.
Sanders is only the third woman to serve as White House press secretary after Dee Dee Myers (in the Clinton administration) and Dana Perino (who served under George W. Bush).
Asked after the announcement whether there were things she would have done differently in the job, Sanders replied: "Certainly, there are things … I'll spend some time thinking about what those are."