- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 2, 2006

The room’s carpet is filthy, like a fraternity house after a kegger. Chairs are broken and hallways clogged with ladders, tripods and junk. Cables and wires are attached to the ceiling by patches of duct tape. Every flat surface is piled high with newspapers and coffee cups. A rat was found hiding among some debris the other day.

And less than 100 feet away is the Oval Office.

But the White House briefing room soon will be no more, slated for a nine-month renovation. Yesterday, a slew of notables — including the president and press secretaries from previous administrations — dropped by to bid farewell.

“I know you’ve been complaining about the digs for a while,” said President Bush, who made a surprise appearance in the decrepit room that has been the site of the daily White House briefing since the 1970s. Flanked by the former press secretaries, the president channeled his predecessor, adding: “We felt your pain.”

“It looks a little crowded in here. And so you want to double the size?” the president asked reporters in the stuffed and sweltering room, who shouted, “Yes, yes.”

With a sneer and a squint — and a bit of comedic timing — Mr. Bush snapped: “Forget it. You get to work like the rest of us.”

Yesterday was the beginning of the end for the press corps in its longtime home off the West Wing. Starting today, the briefing room and the White House press corps’ dingy and dank media work space in the rear will undergo an extensive renovation.

Reporters and photographers will move to temporary quarters across Pennsylvania Avenue to Jackson Place, where the daily briefing will be held until at least May.

The briefing room has been labeled a “firetrap” by engineers for the General Services Administration, which will oversee the renovation of the room and work space. Workers will rip out the old briefing-room chairs — installed during the Reagan administration — knock down walls in the work space, pull up stained carpets and tear out the heating and cooling systems, and remove asbestos.

Reporters grumble about the lengthening timetable for the job, which was first supposed to take six months, then seven and now nine. But White House Correspondents’ Association President Steve Scully said the press corps will return on schedule.

“We will be holding them to their promise of a May 2007 return,” Mr. Scully said.

The mood was festive in the work space yesterday as reporters gathered for the farewell, including newsman Sam Donaldson and White House press corps doyenne Helen Thomas, who joked that she had been covering presidents “since the Washington administration.”

To settle the fears of being permanently ousted, Mr. Bush told reporters he looked forward to “having you back here.” White House spokesman Tony Snow pledged that the press corps will return to “a new press room … right here in this very spot.”

Plans call for a modern briefing room, complete with a bank of video monitors behind the briefer, wireless Internet and microphones at each reporter’s chair so White House stenographers won’t have to write “[inaudible]” quite so often.

Yesterday brought out a slew of former White House press secretaries, including the briefing room’s namesake, James S. Brady.

“It’s great to be here,” said Mr. Brady, who was wounded in the 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan.

Dee Dee Myers and Joe Lockhart, press secretaries for President Clinton, also attended, as did Marlin Fitzwater, spokesman for President George Bush.

“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,” Mr. Fitzwater said.

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