Renovated White House Press Room Unveiled The White House press briefing room, which has been closed for renovations for almost a year, is open for business again. That means the journalists who cover the White House have returned to the West Wing.
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Renovated White House Press Room Unveiled

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Renovated White House Press Room Unveiled

Renovated White House Press Room Unveiled

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Unless you're a cable news junkie, you may not know that the White House press briefing room has been closed for renovations for almost a year. Now, except for a few finishing touches, the room is open for business again. That means the journalists who cover the White House have left their temporary digs across the street and have returned to the West Wing.

Our own White House correspondent David Greene tells us about his first day back.

DAVID GREENE: Those of us who cover the White House are known to be a bit cynical, so when the president kicked reporters out of the White House for renovations last summer, we wondered whether President Bush was showing us the door for good. Yesterday, we finally let go of our fears.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Welcome back to the West Wing. We missed you.

Unidentified Man #1: Yeah.

Unidentified Man #2: Yeah.

President BUSH: Sort of.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: President Bush came in to this spiffy, new briefing room and said he was glad we'll now be working in modern conditions.

President BUSH: Conditions were, you know, a fellow like me would feel comfortable coming in here and answering a few questions without losing 20 pounds.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: If he used to lose weight, it was because the old briefing room was one stuffy place. Yesterday in the new room, the climate felt great so we thought the president would be up for some questions.

President BUSH: Well, maybe some other time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: When? Mr. Bush wouldn't say. This is a president who often pretends not to be paying attention when we shout questions at him. And, in fact, when we tried to do a little shouting yesterday, he gave us the usual I'm-going-to-ignore-you routine. But this time he narrated.

Pres. BUSH: No, I will. I'll, like, listen, internalize, play like I'm going to answer the question, and then smile at you and just say, gosh, thanks. Thanks for such a solid, sound question.

GREENE: Once the president was done with that, I hung around a bit and caught up with Helen Thomas. She's now a syndicated columnist but has covered every president since John F. Kennedy. Those days, she said, the briefing room was quite a place.

Ms. HELEN THOMAS (Columnist, Hearst Newspapers): Lots of whiskey bottles around, spittoons, ashtrays.

GREENE: She's had a long run at the White House but she said she saw yesterday as one of the more important moments. It's a big deal, she said, that reporters are back in the West Wing asking questions and filing stories within steps of where the president works.

Ms. THOMAS: He doesn't own this house. Every president I've ever covered, nine, has always said this house belongs to the American people. So when they try to push me around, I say but this is my house.

GREENE: Helen and I sat for a few minutes checking out the new briefing room. Behind the podium there are fake white columns, miniatures of those outside the White House. The carpeting around the podium looks like part of an American flag - blue background and white stars - and there are two giant flat-screen TVs so the press secretary can do some show and tell. I have to say, my first reaction was this looks sort of like a White House ride at Disney World, maybe a little too made-for-TV for my taste. Then again, I am a radio guy and the resident expert said she liked the look, though she said that's not what counts.

Ms. THOMAS: The columns make it a little more palatial than I can remember it, but the main thing is, the bottom line is we hope we'll get better answers.

GREENE: And anyway, Helen Thomas said, take a good look now because this room may not stay so pretty.

Ms. THOMAS: They've tried to renovate and we've kicked - we've ruined every pressroom there is.

GREEN: So how long until this one gets trashed?

Ms. THOMAS: Two days.

GREENE: David Greene, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: Well, the president didn't wait long to use the new briefing room. Since David Green filed that report, the White House announced a presidential press conference, which is taking place right now.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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