- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 22, 2009

President Obama paid a surprise visit to the White House press room Thursday night, thanking reporters for not being too hard during his Press Secretary Robert Gibbs’ first briefing earlier, and saying he gave Mr. Gibbs a fist bump when it was over.

Mr. Obama emerged unannounced from the doors where press staff work at about 5:45 p.m., saying he wanted to thank the press “for not just completely ripping up Gibbs.” “We were all watching on TV with anticipation of some flop sweat,” the president said.

The president, on his second full day in office, shook hands and introduced himself to reporters, clapping them on the backs and shoulders and saying, in the same fashion he used as a candidate, “Great to see you, how are you.”

He also scolded a reporter who asked him about discrepancies with his new lobbying restrictions.

“See, see hold on a second guys I came down here to visit I didn’t come down here … this is what happens,” Mr. Obama said. “I can’t end up visiting you guys and just shaking hands if I’m gonna to get grilled every time I come down here.”

When the reporter insisted it wasn’t a “grilling,” Mr. Obama said “Alright, come on.”

“We will be having a press conference … right now I just wanted to say hello and introduce myself to you guys, that’s all I was trying to do,” he said. “Don’t worry, we’ll come see you again soon and take questions.”

Mr. Obama told reporters he wants a “respectful” relationship where “you guys feel you’re actually getting answers.”

A reporter asked if he’d been getting in his regular workouts.

“Turns out I’ve got a little gym up here … [on] the third floor,” he said. “I’ve worked out twice there.”

Mr. Obama said he has not tried the basketball court because “it’s too cold,” but said they have installed a new backboard for ball games at the tennis court.

Chaos ensued as photographers and camera crews scrambled to maneuver tight hallways to capture the impromptu visit.

As Mr. Obama wandered through the press room - and downstairs, prompting a Secret Service scramble - he asked about seating protocol and said the division among news agencies “is worst than the Middle East.”

“It’s smaller than I thought,” Mr. Obama said of the cramped quarters.

Mr. Obama said he was “proud” of Mr. Gibbs and said he gave the press secretary a fist bump when the briefing was over. “Gibbs is going to do his best. He got a fist bump from me.”

Some thanked Mr. Gibbs for escorting his boss through the press room, and the press secretary said, “He wanted to do it.”

“That’s the first and last time we’ll see him in here,” NBC’s Chuck Todd joked as the president went back to the Oval Office.

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