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Bush Opens White House Briefing Room


President Bush has re-opened a newly renovated press briefing room at the White House. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns was there.

In a part of the White House where dogs once lived, laundry dried, and presidents swam in a green tiled pool, reporters returned to a new, high-tech briefing room following an $8 million renovation.

The pool is still there, only now it is full of racks of electronics and more than 500 miles of cable. Flat-screen televisions and robotic cameras have been added, along with Internet access at each of the wider, softer seats.

It is the most extensive overhaul since President Richard Nixon tried to move reporters out of the building in 1969.

White House Correspondents' Association President Steve Scully recalls that Mr. Nixon relented only after fierce complaints by reporters, including veteran columnist Helen Thomas who has returned to her seat of honor in the front row.

"They argued that in order for us to do our job, we needed to be here - just a few feet from the Oval Office and even closer to the White House press secretary. And nowhere else is there a working press office this close to the head of state," Scully said.

That is not always a comfortable relationship for American presidents. Welcoming reporters back to the briefing room, Mr. Bush said he missed them, sort of.

"The relationship between the president and the press is a unique relationship and it is a necessary relationship," he said. "I enjoy it. I hope you do. As I say, sometimes you do not like the decisions I make, and sometimes I do not like the way you write about the decisions. But nevertheless, it is a really important part of our process, and the fact that you were working in substandard conditions just was not right."

Gone are the rats in the basement, the chipping plaster, the broken desks, and moldy carpets after heavy rains. No longer do photographers' ladders crowd the aisle and telephone wires hang from the ceiling under condensation from air conditioning vents.

A new central air system has made the facility much cooler, so much so that the president says a fellow like him would feel comfortable coming in to answer a few questions without sweating-off 20 pounds. But apparently not comfortable enough to take questions on the room's fist day.

"Let me cut the ribbon, are you going to cut it with me, Steve? And then why don't you all yell simultaneously, like really loudly, and that way you might get noticed," Mr. Bush said. "I will like listen, internalize, play like I am going to answer the question, and then smile at you and just say, 'Gosh, thanks. Thanks for such a solid, sound question.'"

Some construction remains on the briefing room and reporters' work space.

The official opening was itself an accomplishment, as less than 24 hours earlier, drop cloths covered the new leather seats as painters touched-up door frames and workers drilled through fresh plaster, scattering dust over the white stars under the podium.

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