August 2, 2006

Bush says farewell to old White House press room

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush, spokesmen
for four ex-presidents and throngs of reporters said farewell
on Wednesday to the scruffy White House briefing room,
scheduled for demolition after 35 years of spin and jousting.

"Looks a little crowded here, and so, you want to double
the size? Forget it!" Bush said in an impromptu visit to the
briefing room with his wife, Laura, after spokesman Tony Snow
completed the last briefing there.

The briefing room and accompanying press offices are to be
torn down starting next week to make way for a complete
renovation, with high-tech accessories that may take seven to
nine months or more to complete.

The current room, built over Franklin Roosevelt's swimming
pool -- which is still there -- dates back to 1970, and over
the years has been the scene of daily combat between press
secretaries and reporters.

The White House press corps has outgrown the room with the
advent of cable television and it is a cramped place of stained
carpets, scuffed walls and food scraps that have, in the past,
attracted rats.

A temporary press facility is hastily being completed
across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House and will house
the media until the new briefing room is built.

It will be no bigger than the old room but the aim is to
make it more efficient for the heavy traffic.

Amid paranoia among some reporters that this is Bush's
chance to fulfill the dream of many of his predecessors and
toss out the press from prime office space, Bush said he looked
forward to "having you back here."

Snow pledged the press corps will return to new, spiffy

"There will indeed be a new press room. It will be right
here. It is not going to be in a distant part of town. It will
be right here in this very spot," Snow said.


All applauded when former press secretary James Brady was
rolled into the room in his wheelchair. He was wounded in the
assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan in 1981. The
briefing room is named for him.

Brady said afterward it was tough being press secretary for
Reagan, known as the "Great Communicator" for his polished
speaking skills.

"I felt strange helping the great communicator. He was a
great communicator, and there were days that I did not feel up
to that," he said. "I tried my damndest."

Dee Dee Myers, a press secretary for President Bill
Clinton, said the press room needed a make-over.

"It is small and kind of a dump. So I don't know if it'll
be any bigger, but hopefully less dumpy, less of a fire hazard
and fewer rats," she said.

Marlin Fitzwater, press secretary for former President
George Bush, said communications is 90 percent of what the
presidency is all about.

"The briefing room is still the anchor for all of the White
House communications around the world, and I think it always
will be and it's just going to get bigger and more
sophisticated ," he said.

Joe Lockhart, who as a Clinton press secretary dealt with
questions about the impeachment proceedings rooted in the
Monica Lewinsky scandal, said the briefing room is where the
public holds the presidency accountable.

"While some days it looks like a third-grade food fight,
there's something really important that goes on and the
public's right to know is protected right here in this room,"
he said.