- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 11, 2007

President Bush this morning cut the ribbon on a newly renovated White House briefing room, 11 months and $8 million after a dubious press corps was moved across the street.

We missed you, Mr. Bush said. Sort of.

The president decided not to use a line that was originally part of his brief remarks to a packed pressroom.

There”s no truth to the rumor some of those new seats can be ejected by pressing a button at Tony”s podium, Mr. Bush’s prepared remarks read, referring to press secretary Tony Snow.

That line crossed out with black marker was caught by a White House photographer who ventured out from behind the podium to take a picture before the president took the stage.

Mr. Bush emerged with first lady Laura Bush and Mr. Snow to address a room filled with reporters, White House staff and members of the engineering and construction crews who worked on the renovation.

The relationship between the president and the press is a unique relationship, and it”s a necessary relationship, the president said. I enjoy it. I hope you do.

The room was so packed that only one reporter from each news organization was allowed in, and even some former White House spokespersons could not score invitations to the event.

Mr. Bush went to great lengths to avoid taking any questions from the press. Martha Raddatz of ABC News tried to ask the president a question near the end of his remarks, and Mr. Bush, looking slightly perturbed, joked his way out of it.

Maybe some other time. … Let me cut the ribbon, and then why don”t you all yell simultaneously, the president said to laughter.

Mr. Bush said he knew there was a need to give the pressroom a makeover when he couldn”t do a press briefing without losing 20 pounds from the excessive heat.

President Reagan first converted the press lounge into an official briefing room in 1981, and since then, the explosive growth of TV news contributed to a massive buildup of electrical equipment and bright lights.

The heat overwhelmed the room’s 36-year-old air conditioners, and the press working areas were cramped, dirty and rundown.

The fact that you were working in substandard conditions just wasn”t right, Mr. Bush said.

But some in the press corps doubted whether they would ever be allowed back into the White House. During construction, the press corps occupied temporary quarters across the street.

White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin oversaw the installation of 64-ton cooling-capacity air conditioning units, which were placed in the pool below the briefing room, and of close to 50 “low-energy, low heat light-emitting diodes,” for TV lighting.

The empty pool, built for and used by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, was preserved, right down to the original tiles.

Yet much of the TV and electrical equipment has been put in the pool to alleviate crowding.

The backdrop behind the briefing room podium is also state-of-the-art. Frosted glass panels can be rotated to present a large traditional White House logo, for when the president speaks from the podium.

When the press secretary or another administration official speaks, the frosted glass is covered with smaller White House logos, and flat-screen TV screens can be used on either side of the podium.

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