Sean Spicer's big splash

Dave Ghose
White House press secretary Sean Spicer speaks during the daily news briefing at the White House in Washington,

Sean Spicer knows how to make a splash. Back in 2005—long before his jousting with the Washington, D.C., press corps turned him into a figure of international fascination and frustration—he spent a year working for former Columbus Congresswoman Deborah Pryce. Just a few weeks into his job, he joined Pryce and other members of her staff at a pool party and barbecue in Central Ohio. The staff started joking about how someone should push Pryce’s chief of staff into the pool. Spicer, though he was new, accepted the challenge. “Unfortunately, I learned how much a BlackBerry cost,” Spicer says with a laugh, recalling the incident during a brief Tuesday phone conversation with Columbus Monthly.

“He was a stitch; he was hysterical,” Pryce says of Spicer. “He endeared himself to me from that time on.”

From 2005 to 2007, Pryce led the House Republican Conference, the forum for the GOP members of the U.S. House to communicate with each other. Pryce hired Spicer to serve as the conference’s communications director, working mostly with the national media. “He had been a naval officer, and he came with a military attitude about doing a good job and doing a thorough job and working until the job gets done,” Pryce says.

His job, however, ended painfully. On his last day working for the Republican Conference before leaving to join the office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Spicer’s jaw was broken in two places during a softball game. “I was pitching, and the batter returned it to my face,” says Spicer, who was hospitalized for several days recovering from the injury.

Broken jaw notwithstanding, Spicer says his experience with Pryce and the Republican Conference was important. “My time there helped me advance,” says Spicer, who stays in touch with Pryce via the occasional email and phone call. “I don’t think I’d be where I am today without it.”

 Of course, where he is today doesn’t exactly seem like a great place. His conversation with Columbus Monthly came a day after Politico reported that Spicer was leading a search to find his own replacement as President Donald Trump’s chief spokesman. Pryce says Spicer had excellent relations with the media during his time with her, but his reality-challenged White House press briefings have drawn comparisons to “Baghdad Bob,” Saddam Hussein’s former spokesman, and served as fodder for late-night satire. “It’s sad for me to watch what’s happening with his professional life right now,” says Pryce, who left office in 2008 and still lives in Columbus. “My hope is that he emerges from this with a modicum of a sense of humor so he can look back and smile, too.”