Mercedes Schlapp is the White House director of strategic communications and is considered to be a possible replacement for Hope Hicks.
Schlapp, 45, would be the Trump administration’s fifth communications director, following Hicks, Anthony Scaramucci, Mike Dubke and Sean Spicer.
Her husband, Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, the group that hosts the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), said Thursday on MSNBC that his wife would be interested in the role.
“She’s going to be very open to anything the president wants her to do,” Matt Schlapp said. “Both she and I have been supporters of the president. We like his agenda, and we’re proud of what he’s doing.”
Matt Schlapp said his wife “loves her job” at the White House and has “no idea” who will replace Hicks, who resigned Wednesday. The Wall Street Journal reported that Mercedes Schlapp has been discussed internally as a possible candidate for the job.
“I have no idea what the president is thinking in terms of filling this post,” Matt Schlapp told MSNBC. “Those are big shoes to fill.”
Here’s what you need to know about Mercedes Schlapp:
1. Schlapp Joined the Trump White House in September 2017 After Working as a Political Strategist, Fox News Contributor, Columnist, Radio Host & for the Bush Administration
Mercedes “Mercy” Schlapp has worked for the Trump administration since September 2017, when she joined the White House staff as its director of strategic communications. Schlapp has long been a prominent voice in conservative circles as a political strategist and commentator. She has worked as a columnist for the Washington Times and as a contributor to Fox News.
“Honored to serve Donald Trump and the nation,” Schlapp said on Twitter after joining the White House.
Schlapp was brought in by Chief of Staff John Kelly not long after he moved into the West Wing. According to Politico, Schlapp was brought in to help professionalize a staff that had suffered from internal turmoil.
“General Kelly is methodically looking at the portfolios of all the senior level staff and identifying redundancies and clarifying roles so that everyone has a clearly defined lane,” a White House official said in September.
Politico said Kelly, his then-deputy chief of staff Kirstjen Nielsen and deputy national security adviser Dina Powell are “big fans” of Schlapp. She was brought into the White House at the same time Hicks was named as the new communications director.
Schlapp has been popular among staff.
“Mercedes has been a godsend,” a White House official told CNN in February. “Every time there is a void because there is some craziness going on, Mercy’s always there to be the leader of the team. Otherwise, we’d all be chickens with our heads cut off, just running around rudderless.”
Sources told CNN that Schlapp would often step in to run the communications department when Hicks was busy with the president or meeting with her lawyer.
“Beyond long-term planning, three White House officials said Schlapp has increasingly helmed day-to-day tasks in the communications department and become a go-to for officials outside the communications department looking for messaging guidance,” CNN reported. “She has also become a more visible presence outside the White House, appearing on television more frequently — including on Spanish-language networks because she is of Cuban decent — than in her first months at the White House.”
A source told CNN, “When Hope’s attention is with the President, Mercy is helpful (in) managing the team.”
Before joining the White House staff, Schlapp was working with her husband, Matt Schlapp at Cove Strategies, a Virginia-based political consulting firm that the couple founded in 2009, according to its website.
“Cove Strategies is a boutique government and public relations firm headquartered in historic Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. The decision to build a boutique firm stems from our belief in and dedication to building long-term and trusted relationships with our clients. The principals at Cove Strategies are accessible and fully engaged in our clients’ issues and priorities,” the website explains. “Each member of the Cove team brings a broad range of political and communications experience to the firm. We have worked on local, state and presidential campaigns, on Capitol Hill and at The White House, as well as in the non-profit and private sectors.”
In her role at Cove, Schlapp, worked “as a consultant for clients from Fortune 500 corporations and nonprofit organizations. Mercedes (served) as the interface between the clients and Spanish-language media outlets, (developed) media strategy including message development and implementation plans and (worked) on Hispanic coalition-building efforts. She (identified) the most effective ways to reach targeted audiences nationally and/or locally,” according to a bio provided by CPAC.
Trump praised the Schlapps at CPAC in 2017, saying, “I want to thank Matt Schlapp and his very, very incredible wife and boss, Mercedes. When I watch them on television defending me, nobody has a chance.”
Schlapp ended her contributor role at Fox News shortly before taking the White House job. She had also been writing a column for the conservative-leaning Washington Times newspaper, a role she started in 2016.
“Mercedes is a brilliant individual and one of the most admired political strategists today,” Times’ CEO and President Larry Beasley said at the time. “Having someone with her well-rounded talents and expertise in the political arena join TWT is just another great addition to our already strong team.”
Schlapp has also made appearances as a commentator on MSNBC, CNN and PBS and on Spanish media, including Univision, Telemundo, CNN en Español and national Spanish radio. She has also written for U.S. News and World Report, FoxNews.com, The Daily Caller and The Hill, “on a variety of topics including immigration, Hispanic and women issues as well as on foreign and domestic policies,” the Washington Times said when announcing her new column.
She has worked on both local and national political campaigns, including President George W. Bush’s 2000 and 2004 campaigns. She also worked in the Bush administration as director of speciality media. In that role she served as a spokesperson for Spanish-language media outlets. She met her husband while working for Bush. He worked as the administration’s political director from 2001 to 2005.
After working for the Bush administration, Mercedes Schlapp hosted the Republican National Committee’s web show, “In the Know.” She has also worked for the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute.
Schlapp was rumored to be a contender to be the chair of the RNC after Reince Priebus joined the Trump administration, The Washington Examiner reported in December 2016. She was being pushed by then-Trump advisor Steve Bannon, according to the report.
“Wow. That would be awesome. She is a super savvy Cuban woman from Miami. Great husband. Five daughters. Smart, tough, good speaker, big smile. Fluent in Espanol. Hell Yeah. Sign me up. And please not another 60-year-old white man,” a GOP insider told the newspaper.
Schlapp said at the time, “It’s an honor to even be considered,. Obviously that’s a decision for the president-elect and the committee members [who] vote on the next RNC chairman. I have to say Reince Priebus and his team have done such an outstanding job…[he] has had one of the toughest jobs during the primary season and the fact that he’s been abe to build out such a solid ground game for the party I think has been impressive…there’s a lot of talent out there so we’ll see what happens.”
That job was eventually filled by Ronna Romney McDaniel.
2. She Is a Miami Native & a First-Generation Cuban-American Whose Father Was Jailed for 6 Years by the Cuban Government
Mercedes Schlapp was born Mercedes Viana in Miami, Florida. She is a first-generation Cuban-American. Her father, Jose, was a political prisoner under the Castro regime in Cuba and was imprisoned by the government for six years. She told The Hill that his stories about life in Cuba inspired her to get into politics.
“He taught me since I was a little girl to always fight to protect America’s freedom and democracy,” she said in 2016. “I felt I was … called to do something bigger, greater than myself, and that’s what drew me to Washington.”
Schlapp told NBC News in 2016, “I remember my father always talking about how we have to fight for the freedom of this country.”
After the death of Fidel Castro in 2016, Schlapp talked about telling her then-81-year-old father that he had died.
“His eyes swelled with tears, and he smiled with a sense of relief that a dictator who destroyed his homeland, stole his homes and businesses, killed his friends, and divided our family was finally gone,” Schlapp wrote for Fox News. “Mr. Castro changed the course of history and sadly, thousands of Cubans paid a heavy price for his actions. Many who disagreed with the Castro regime including my father were imprisoned, tortured, or assassinated.”
“My father knew the destructive path of Mr. Castro, and he became a freedom fighter – outspoken and critical of Mr. Castro. e was thrown into jail,” Schlapp wrote. On the first day of his imprisonment, he spoke to one his friends and had to tell him that he would be executed the next day by a firing squad. It is just one of many stories of the horrors of the Castro brothers who are both guilty of the countless executions of innocent men and women.”
Schlapp’s brother, also named Jose Viana, works in the Trump administration as assistant deputy secretary and director of the Office of English Language Acquisition at the Department of Education. He was appointed to that job in April 2017, according to the education department’s website.
“OELA awards federal grants to support the integration of non- or limited-English-speaking students into school systems around the country. OELA also supports professional development programs for teachers of English learners,” the website explains.
Schlapp and her brother grew up speaking Spanish in their home as their first language and learned English as a second language.
With her Spanish heritage and ability to speak the language, Schlapp has often addressed issues impacting the Hispanic community in her commentary and columns. She has also defended Trump’s treatment of Hispanics and immigrants.
Schlapp told Fox News in 2016, “Trump’s economic message of putting the American worker first resonated with the Hispanic community, many of them who are in the service industry, many of them who have small businesses, that for example want to see less regulations and less taxes. … When you notice where Donald Trump is focusing his priority it’s clearly on deporting criminal illegal aliens. And I think Hispanic Americans across the board can agree that is a very important task to take to ensure the protection of citizens in our country.”
During her time in the White House, Schlapp talked to the media about what she called “selective leaks” and “inaccurate reporting,” on immigration issues, specifically the DACA issue and reports of Trump’s “shithole countries” comment.
“The language was not used and it is very clear that this is the Democrats trying to derail this process,” Schlapp told ABC News. “It’s very clear that we want immigrants to come to this country regardless of their background — in terms of making sure that we focus in on what their skills are and what they can contribute to the economy.”
3. Schlapp, Who Graduated From Florida International University & George Washington University, Was a Board Member for the NRA
Mercedes Schlapp attended St. Brendan High School in Miami, graduating in 1990. She then graduated from Florida International University, also in Miami, in 1994 with a degree in political science, according to FIU’s website. She was the first graduate of the school to work in the White House.
Schlapp also earned her master’s degree from George Washington University in D.C. in 1997 in public administration.
Schlapp became a member of the National Rifle Association’s Board of Directors in 2015. It is not clear when she left the NRA’s board, but she is no longer listed as one of its members.
Schlapp and her husband are Catholic and are members of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Old Town Alexandria. She is named for the patron saint of political prisoners, Virgin Mercedes, who her father, Jose, prayed to when he was being held by the Cuban government.
Schlapp has spoken out about issues affecting Catholics and other Christians as a commentator and columnist. In 2012, she wrote a column for U.S. News and World Report arguing that churches felt like they were being persecuted by President Barack Obama.
“President Obama’s decision to support gay marriage will not help his re-election efforts. He has taken an issue that tugs at the heartstrings of many Americans and has turned it into a political ploy,” she wrote. “The president’s approach on this issue represents the worst of politics. Over the last 15 years he has taken opposing positions on this topic. First he favored legalization of same sex marriage in 1996 when he was a state senator and then changed his position to court Christian voters in 2008. And now in 2012, he is back where he started. This type of evolution is not Darwinian but Machiavellian. He has played both sides: one moment he is distancing himself from gay voters and the next he is misleading the Christian voters.”
Metro Weekly, a D.C.-based weekly magazine for the LGBTQ community, called her an “anti-LGBTQ activist,” when she was appointed to the White House
“Mercedes Schlapp’s addition to the White House brings another ‘yes’ person to the Trump Administration that only wants to erase the hard-fought progress and acceptance LGBTQ Americans have made in recent years,” Drew Anderson, the director of news and rapid response at GLAAD, said in a statement to Metro Weekly. “Schlapp is a seasoned anti-LGBTQ activist who would have no trouble blindly communicating any anti-LGBTQ measure the president rubber stamps. During a time when the safety and well-being of the community is at stake — LGBTQ people need someone who will stand up for them, not simply say ‘OK’ to any discriminatory act.”
Schlapp has been critical of Pope Francis at times. She wrote in a 2015 column for U.S. News and World Report about his speech to Congress:
When Pope Francis delivered his speech before Congress, he drew loud applause on the lawn of the Capitol by declaring that the Golden Rule “reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.” The pontiff went on to dedicate a full paragraph to opposing the death penalty and spoke in depth about climate change, poverty and immigration. He allocated only the one, vague sentence in his entire speech to the unborn.
In fact, the pontiff never explicitly mentioned the word abortion or unborn, a huge disappointment to pro-life Catholics eager to hear more from Francis on this moral issue, particularly in the wake of the investigation into Planned Parenthood’s harvesting of baby parts. On the lawn of the Capitol, I saw more signs that read “protect the common good” than signs calling to “protect the unborn,” which illustrates a change in the pope’s messaging.
It was one of many missed opportunities to reassure conservatives that the pontiff stands with practicing Catholics on moral issues they feel he has minimized during his trip to America in favor of more liberal-sounding policies.
4. She & Her Husband Have 5 Daughters & Live in Virginia
Mercedes and Matt Schlapp have been married since July 13, 2002, and they are the parents of five daughters all under the age of 15.
She told The Hill that her children are her “center of fun” and a “great blessing.”
Schlapp and her husband, a Wichita, Kansas, native, live in Virginia.
The couple has appeared together often on radio and TV, and also have often been side-by-side at CPAC since Matt Schlapp took over the American Conservative Union in 2014. The Schlapp children have also been featured at CPAC in recent years.
Matt Schlapp talked about his wife and the possibility she would fill the communications director role during a March 1 interview on WMAL Radio. The show’s hosts were encouraging him to “break the news” that she would be Hope Hicks’ replacement
“The first thing I have to do is make sure that I keep the job of husband. That’s my number one job,” Matt Schlapp said. “My guess, whoever they pick for this new communications director is going to be very sensitive. She’s awesome, I love her, she’s very talented. We’ve got five little kids, the older one’s not so little anymore, she’s got a lot going on in her life. I’ll tell you this, as a woman who is in a senior-level position, she is respected by the president and she really enjoys working for him. And it’s a great environment for her and she’s having a blast, even though it’s awfully tough.”
5. The Schlapps Considered Abandoning Trump After the ‘Access Hollywood’ Tape, but Decided to ‘Double Down’ Because They Thought Life Would Be Better With Him as President
After the release of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape in October 2016, just a month before the election, Mercy and Matt Schlapp considered dropping their support for Trump. They drove to Victory Farm, their weekend home in Virginia, shared a bottle of wine and debated the issue, the Washington Post reported in March 2017.
“We decided to double down,” Matt told the newspaper.
“Of course we did,” Mercedes said.
They told The Post that they unanimously decided that life under President Trump would be better than if Hillary Clinton won the election, and chose to continue defending and supporting him.
Ari Fleischer, who worked with the Schlapps in the Bush administration, told the newspaper, “They’ve become a really fun new power couple.”
Mercedes Schlapp told The Post that on their first date, she asked Matt what he would do about Elian Gonzalez. She asked if he should have been sent back.
“I told her, you don’t ever send anyone back to the commies,” Matt told the newspaper.