The least likely people you’d expect to feel badly for embattled White House press secretary Sean Spicer are those with whom he has sparred with the most.
So it came as a surprise to some on Wednesday when Spicer received an outpouring of sympathy. The reason: As President Donald Trump met with Pope Francis at the Vatican, Spicer – a devout Catholic – was noticeably absent from the entourage.
Those in attendance included first lady Melania Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, national security adviser H.R. McMaster; Hope Hicks, Trump’s communications adviser; Keith Schiller, his former bodyguard; and Dan Scavino, his social media manager. Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are both Jewish but nonetheless met with the pontiff.
Pope Francis walks past Melania Trump and President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump at the end of a private audience at the Vatican on May 24, 2017.
Meanwhile, Spicer, the highly visible White House aide who was reportedly excited to meet with Pope Francis, wasn’t there.
“Wow,” a source told CNN. “That’s all he wanted.”
Spicer’s absence struck a chord. By excluding him, “Trump has done something I thought was impossible,” tweeted Josh Dawsey, Politico White House reporter.
“He has made everyone empathize with/defend Spicer,” Dawsey said.
New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush spoke out. Spicer has on multiple occasions criticized and clashed with Thrush during press briefings, exchanges portrayed by Melissa McCarthy’s Sean Spicer character on “Saturday Night Live.”
I’m no Spicer fan, but Trump’s petty refusal to include him, a devout Catholic . . . was cruel and disgusting
“That planners of this trip couldn’t or wouldn’t get @seanspicer into the Vatican speaks to a small-mindedness I find incredibly depressing,” Thrush tweeted.
“This seems needlessly harsh – when else is Spicer likely to meet the Pope, and it mattered to him?” tweeted New York Times White House correspondent Maggie Haberman.
“Trump is a cruel boss,” said New Republic senior editor Jeet Heer, who also wrote the president “didn’t let Sean Spicer meet the Pope out of sheer meanness.”
Politico Magazine editor in chief Blake Hounshell said leaving out Spicer “seems like a slight.”
Pope Francis meets with President Donald Trump and First lady Melania Trump on the occasion of their private audience, at the Vatican, Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Huff Post published the headline, “Sean Spicer Gets A Ride On The Nope Mobile.”
CNN’s Erin Burnett said meeting with the pope “by all accounts would have been the highlight of his life.”
Mark Preston, a senior political analyst for CNN who attends church in the same parish as Sean Spicer, told Burnett, “I’m sure is really hurting him,” and suggested his exclusion reflected the president’s “pettiness.”
“There very few perks, there are very long days,” he said of Spicer’s job. “For something like this to happen to Sean Spicer I think really is an indictment against Donald Trump and again in his lack of loyalty
Burnett wrapped up the segment by saying, “If Donald Trump indeed plans to remove him, go ahead and get rid of him. But he’s done a lot for you, this deeply mattered to him. I just think on a human level it was clear what the right thing to do was.”
Some outside of the media industry were equally vocal.
Pope to First Lady: What Do You Feed Trump? 1:25
“I’m no Spicer fan, but Trump’s petty refusal to include him, a devout Catholic . . . was cruel and disgusting,” Harvard Law School’s Laurence Tribe tweeted.
“There are few things I despise more than people who use their power to step on the dreams of others,” another tweet said.
Spicer is a regular at Sunday mass, and told reporters earlier this year that he gave up alcohol for Lent. He was mocked last year for appearing on CNN with ashes on his forehead in honour of Ash Wednesday.
He did not respond to media requests for comment Wednesday evening, but has previously spoken of his faith publicly.
In a television interview during the transition, Spicer said, “I’m going to look to God every day to give me the strength to do what’s right,” he said.
“That’s all you can ask for is to get up and say, ‘Can I do this thing?’” Spicer said. “Help guide me and ask Him for strength.”
Some on social media expressed less sympathy toward the press secretary, with at least one Twitter user surmising, “maybe he didn’t want to go!”
Comedian Samantha Bee tweeted: “sorry about the pope. Remember, you don’t HAVE to put up with this . . .”