NEW YORK, NEW YORK —
A frigid, drizzly Monday in midtown Manhattan. One by one, beginning before 8 a.m., 20 or so journalists and photographers grab their coffee and settle in for a long day behind the ropes at Trump Tower.
On the day's high-profile agenda: Carly Fiorina, Rep. Raul Labrador, Rick Santorum, Sen. Joe Manchin and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, among others.
9:58 a.m. — Former Hewlett-Packard CEO and Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina is escorted by Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway through the security belt. Pool reporters shout questions as she approaches the elevator, but Fiorina does not look back. She enters through the tower's far-left elevator.
10:27 a.m. — An elderly gentlemen waddles past the press pen, stops, and jokes to two journalists. "What are you waiting on? Breakfast?"
10:31 a.m. — Carrying a hefty briefcase, former GOP primary opponent Ben Carson, president-elect Donald Trump's pick for secretary of housing and urban development, ignores the media and swiftly enters the third elevator at Trump Tower, disappearing from sight as others pile in. Two women sharing the ride up smile, seemingly amused by photographers' shutters.
10:40 a.m. — Clad in an NYPD jacket and gear, a police officer casually walks across the lobby with a bomb-sniffing black Labrador. This is a normal, frequent scene.
10:52 a.m. — Former Florida Congressman Allen West, after nearly two hours in Trump Tower, promptly departs without speaking. On his way in, he is asked if he would be advising the president-elect on issues of national security. His response: "We'll see when I get up there." Alas, he leaves us in suspense.
11:25 a.m. — The lobby is crowded with tourists. Every couple of minutes, someone interrupts me to ask if and when Trump will come down. I tell them not to count on it.
"Are you bored out of your mind?" one asks.
"Have you seen anyone cool?" asks another.
"Define 'cool,'" I joke.
But they're happy, snapping selfies in front of our pen. A vacationing couple from New Jersey remarks on how Trump Tower has changed since their last visit, before the election: "It's just sad that we need riot police."
11:50 a.m. —Fiorina's post-meeting re-emergence has caused the greatest commotion yet. As far as tourists are concerned, she has celebrity status, as does Conway, Trump's campaign manager.
"Kellyanne, you're a genius!" yells a visitor.
In front of the cameras, Fiorina smiles and delivers a short recap of her meeting:
"We … spent a fair amount of time talking about China as probably our most important adversary and a rising adversary,” she says. “We talked about hacking, whether it's Chinese hacking or purported Russian hacking. We talked about the opportunity that the president-elect has to literally reset things, to reset the trajectory of this economy, to reset the role of government, to reset America's role in the world and how we're perceived in the world."
12:15 p.m. — House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana descends in the elevator, briefly addressing the press pool.
A reporter asks if he supports calls for an investigation into alleged Russian hacking of the U.S. presidential election.
"I think there's nothing wrong with an investigation that looks at all sides of what Russia did and, frankly, any other country," Scalise responds. "Look, North Korea, China, other countries have been hacking into America for years and Barack Obama sat on the sidelines and didn't defend American families and companies who were being hacked by foreign countries for years."
12:22 p.m. — Donning his winter fur coat and barely anything else, New York's "naked cowboy," an outspoken Trump supporter, arrives in the lobby. Tourists are thrilled, lining up for photos. Journalists could not care less. He seeks attention regularly at Trump Tower, and the media pool mostly ignores him by now.
1:12 p.m. — Trump press secretary Hope Hicks escorts U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, past security. As reporters shout questions, he looks back, smiling, before the elevator doors close: "I'm very anxious to have a good conversation."
1:24 p.m. —Carson has left the building. He obliges after a tourist asks for a photo, but takes no questions from reporters.
1:40-1:46 p.m. — Tourists are lined up on either side of the elevators, despite frequent requests from security to "keep on moving." Retired Lt. General Michael Flynn — Trump's pick for national security adviser — emerges, along with former American International Group Inc. CEO Maurice "Hank" Greenberg and K.T. McFarland, Trump’s pick for deputy national security adviser. Flynn ignores questions from the media pool about Russian hacking and does not look back.
Meanwhile, Eric Trump — son of President-elect Trump — has arrived with his wife, Lara. He takes photos with tourists and promptly heads up.
Within minutes, it's Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador's turn. He, too, does not take questions, but is all smiles as he is escorted by Conway.
2:12 p.m. — "Look, it's Rick Santorum!" a young man points and readies his iPhone. Santorum, a former GOP presidential rival of Trump, smiles and waves, before heading to his meeting with the president-elect.
2:24 p.m. — A reporter knocks over the velvet rope that separates the press and the lobby elevators. No big deal. Manchin reappears and leaves as quickly as he entered. "We had a good conversation," he said, echoing his non-substantive remarks before the meeting. Nothing more.
2:44 p.m. —Labrador descends, escorted by Conway, and approaches the cameras. Asked repeatedly about whether he supports an investigation on alleged Russian hacking, he responds carefully:
"We need to look into it, but I don't serve on any of those committees,” he says. “I don't know exactly what people are saying. It's interesting to me that as a member of Congress, you have the CIA that keeps saying that something happened, but we haven't been briefed on any of those issues."
Conway, meanwhile, finds herself amongst a sea of supporters. She agrees to many selfies, smiling wide and without hesitation. If the crowd is any indication, there is no bigger celebrity in Trump Tower (aside from Trump himself).
3:15 p.m. — With Trump's meeting schedule gradually winding down, several reporters have left. Thus, we begin the final stretch. Some reporters have been standing for more than eight hours by now.
4:05 p.m. — A photographer flirts with a tourist after she asks him a question.
"Who are you waiting for?"
"I'm waiting for you!"
4:14 p.m. — It's approaching sunset. The tourist crowd is quiet at the moment, but fluctuates in ebbs and flows. The media pool, meanwhile, remains near full strength. The job is both a sprint and a marathon.
4:28-4:38 p.m. — Sen. Tim Scott, a Republican from South Carolina, has entered the tower, browsing about the lobby before ascending the freight elevator. He did not answer reporters' questions.
Nor did former Texas Governor Rick Perry, who entered minutes after, the last scheduled "big name" of the day.
Outside, night is falling. And the meetings are slowing to an end. But the lighting is ideal for one more snap of the holiday wreath, above the Fifth Avenue action.