Politics

White House head of communications for Hispanic media, Helen Aguirre Ferré, makes quiet exit

The Miami-born Hispanic left the job in the midst of the family separation crisis but has not spoken publicly about her departure.
8 Ago 2018 – 7:03 PM EDT

Helen Aguirre Ferré surprised many friends and colleagues in the media when she joined the Trump administration in January 2017 due to her previous work campaigning for former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

Aguirre Ferré, 60, who is the daughter of Nicaraguan parents, has not spoken publicly about her departure, which was confirmed to Univision by Mercedes Schlapp, the White House director of Strategic Communications.

"We greatly appreciate Helen’s work, service and dedication during her time in the White House. She will continue to work for the Administration in a different capacity," Schlapp said in an email. The White House has provided no explanation for her departure or what her future job might be.

Aguirre Ferré is currently on vacation with her family and declined to comment for the time being. It is rumored she could be headed to the National Endowment for the Arts, NEA.

Her unannounced exit from the White House comes in the midst of the immigration crisis over Trump's 'zero tolerance' policy, but Aguirre Ferré has not publicly expressed any reservations about its impact on immigrant families. In fact, she defended the policy and never gave any sign of her loyalty wavering. At a Latina Leaders Summit in June she said; "I support the President's efforts in securing the border and I support the President's efforts in ensuring that the laws are enacted properly."

A former colleague at Univision radio in Miami, Roberto Rodríguez Tejera, said her leaving was a bit of a mystery. "She went beyond her duties to secure her permanency in that office," he said.

A Washington-based ethics group also recently named AguirreFerré in a complaint filed with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) against 10 Trump administration officials for violations of the federal Hatch Act that bars federal employees from using their offices and resources for political purposes.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) accused the officials of posting tweets that support President Trump as a candidate for the Republican Party in 2020, including use of the campaign slogan ‘Make America Great Again,’ or ‘MAGA.’ Among the 10 officials accused of the same violation: White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and several other deputy press secretaries.

Her departure comes close on the heels of another prominent Hispanic departure, Cuban American Carlos Díaz-Rosillo, former Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Policy and Interagency Coordination, who left in June. A Cuban-American former Harvard professor, Díaz-Rosillo was a frequent commentator on behalf of the Trump administration on Hispanic media outlets and has since been named Senior Deputy Chairman at the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

Spanish website not a priority

The departure of Aguirre Ferré and Díaz-Rosillo in such quick succession has raised questions about the Trump administration's commitment to serving the Hispanic media. Schlapp told Univision that she will be handling the Spanish-speaking media for the White House "for now." The White House still doesn’t offer a Spanish-language version of its website 18 months after President Trump took office. The previous two administrations offered Spanish content on the official White House website.

Asked about the website at the Latina Leaders summit, Aguirre Ferré conceded it was not a White House priority. “As important as it would be to have something in Spanish language, I think by and large most of us actually do speak English to a great degree. Is it the most necessary thing that we need. I’m not sure that it is.”

Schlapp, a Cuban-American raised in Florida, is an experienced political campaigner and Fox News contributor who worked for the George W. Bush administration. She is married to Matt Schlapp, the chair of the influential American Conservative Union and former chief Washington lobbyist for Koch Industries, owned by a family of wealthy Republican party donors.

Schlapp and Aguirre Ferré were both critics of Trump at one time, and especially spoke out over some of his statements about women. But they came around after Trump won the Republican Party's presidential nomination, concluding that Hillary Clintons was a greater threat to the nation.

A journalist by profession, Aguirre Ferré previously hosted a Miami-based current events show Issues with Helen Ferré on WPBT 2 a local public broadcasting channel. Before joining the Trump administration she was a highly respected Hispanic voice in South Florida, including being a Univision radio host and TV political analyst. Her family are former owners of the Diario las Américas newspaper and she is the daughter-in-law of Miami's first Hispanic mayor Maurice Ferré.

In 2016 she served an advisor to the Jeb Bush presidential campaign before moving to Washington to work for the Republican National Committee.

Were Aguirre Ferré to join go Díaz-Rosillo at one of the federal cultural agencies political analysts note the slight irony that the Trump has proposed ending funding for the endowments which were created in the 1960s. Congress has so far resisted Trump's call to cut NEA and NEH which each receive about $150 million.

(With reporting by Deborah Dunham in Washington DC)