Someone sprinted down the hallway, so I knew something was up. More running around. The cameramen sprang to action, the scribblers grabbed their notebooks. President Obama had dropped into the White House briefing room. This is not the sort of thing that happens everyday. He said he wanted to “thank everybody for not just completely ripping up [Press Secretary Robert] Gibbs,” in the recently finished press briefing. “He handled it and I’m very proud,” Obama added, noting that he had watched the briefing on television.
Then he took a tour of our modest environs. As he walked through the two story press complex on the edge of the West Wing, he was less full of praise. “I got to say, it’s smaller than I thought,” he said. He made it down to the basement hallway. “It’s like a submarine down here,” he joked. When he passed the press vending machines, which offer candy bars and potato chips, he suggested that we “might want to have healthier snacks.”
He bantered with the jostling crowd as he walked, saying he had been using the White House gym to work out. He said he had not yet acquired his hard-won Blackberry. “I won the fight but I don’t think it’s up and running yet,” he said. He said he had added another backboard on the White House tennis court so he could play basketball, but he had not played yet because it was “too cold.”
One reporter tried to ask him about his new ethics policy, and he declined to answer. “Right now, I just want to say hello,” he said. For most of his tour, he walked without security. (Though one Secret Service agent did arrive mid-tour, forcing his way through the crowd.) He shook hands. Smiled. Promised to learn our names. And then returned from where he came, a president still learning about the building he now calls home.