By Frank James

President Barack Obama surprised White House reporters on Tuesday by carrying a plate of six cupcakes topped by a birthday candle into the briefing room as he led his aides in the singing of "Happy Birthday" to Helen Thomas, the 89-year old dean of White House reporters.

It just so happens to be the president's birthday too, as we reported earlier. That caused some reporters in the room to shout "happy birthday" to the president as he entered.

But while the president was obviously the star of the show, he allowed Thomas, who has covered every president since John F. Kennedy, to shine in his reflected glory.

Obama asked Thomas what she wished for. She said world peace and and end to racial and ethnic discrimination, "that there's no prejudice in the country" you can hear her say in the Associated Press video.

"You've got to blow it out to make it come true," Obama said, giving her instructions on what to do with the candle. Then he sat down, put an arm around her shoulders and posed for a picture. with her.

You can also hear the video photographers yelling at the still photographers and reporters who were standing in the way of their shots to get down and out of their picture frames. It's the kind of controlled chaos that usually accompanies an impromptu presidential appearance in the briefing room.

Proving that he is firmly back on message after the distraction of the Henry Louis Gates Jr. flap and the beer summit, Obama said "She and I also had a common birthday wish. She said she hoped for a real health-care reform bill." That brought plenty of laughs from the assembled journalists.

"Single-payer?" one reporter asked.

"Define real" said another.

"I will leave it up to you how you want to distribute the cup cakes" Obama said, not taking the bait. He planted a kiss on Thomas' cheek and then he was gone.

categories: Obama Administration

4:25 - August 4, 2009