White House adviser Kellyanne Conway appeared on ABC News Sunday morning, where host Jonathan Karl asked her to name the “most prominent, high-level adviser on the West Wing staff” who is African-American. Conway responded like a fourth grader delivering a book report on a book she did not read.
Jonathan Karl asked Kellyanne Conway who the most senior African-American aide to the president was now that Omarosa is gone. 👀 pic.twitter.com/ziWMt3FeTU
— David Mack (@davidmackau) August 12, 2018
Conway’s first response was Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, who, as his job title suggests, works for the Department of Housing and Urban Development and not in the West Wing.
When pressed to name a black aide who is on “the White House staff right now,” Conway eventually names someone called “Ja’Ron” who has “been very involved with Jared Kushner and President Trump on prison reform.”
It is a testament to the prominence of African-Americans in this White House that, when asked to name a single one, one of the president’s top advisers didn’t even give that person’s last name. Nevertheless, it is likely that the “Ja’Ron” Conway points to is Ja’Ron Smith, who holds the title of “Director of Urban Affairs and Revitalization.”
Smith, as the Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey notes, is a “mid-level aide” who works in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, a building adjacent to the White House. Conway, in other words, was not able to name a single black person who works in the West Wing.
It is unlikely that Smith has much interaction with the president or with people in the president’s inner circle. In addition to their job titles, many White House aides are classified by their rank. The highest rank is “assistant to the president,” a level that includes the very most senior aides such as Chief of Staff John Kelly, National Security Adviser John Bolton, and Conway herself.
Omarosa Manigault-Newman, who is black, held the rank of assistant to the president while she worked for President Trump, but it is unclear why. Her job title was Director of Communications for the Office of Public Liaison, which placed her below the more senior official who ran that office. With rare exceptions, subordinate officials within White House offices are not typically classified as assistants to the president.
The next highest rank is “deputy assistant to the president.” As of the middle of last year, more than two dozen White House officials held this rank, including top deputies to officials at the assistant to the president level and heads of relatively minor offices within the White House. Ja’Ron Smith is not one of these deputy assistants to the president.
Rather, Smith is a “special assistant to the president,” a more junior rank held by officials who often have their own policy portfolios, but typically are well outside the president’s inner circle. About 80 people on the White House payroll hold the rank of special assistant to the president. Some examples of officials who hold this rank include the president’s social secretary, the associate director of the personnel office, and the executive assistant to the chief of staff.