- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 12, 2007

President Bush yesterday 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.”

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

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

The room was so packed that only one reporter from each news institution was admitted, and even some former White House spokesmen could not score invitations to the event.

Mr. Bush went to great lengths to avoid taking 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 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,” Mr. Bush said to laughter.

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

“Theres 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.

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 said he knew there was a need to give the pressroom a makeover when he couldn’t conduct a briefing “without losing 20 pounds” from the excessive heat.

President Reagan converted the press lounge into an official briefing room in 1981. 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 run-down.

“The fact that you were working in substandard conditions just wasn’t right,” Mr. Bush said.

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.

Steve Scully, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, said, “Nowhere else is there a working press office this close to a head of state.”

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 into the pool to alleviate crowding.

The backdrop behind the podium is state of the art. Frosted glass panels can be rotated to present a large traditional White House logo when the president speaks.

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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