WHITE HOUSE - U.S. President Barack Obama surprised his longtime press secretary Josh Earnest, who was just starting to take questions Tuesday at his final, and 354th, briefing of White House reporters. The Brady Press Briefing Room was packed with an overflow crowd of reporters for the farewell event, with some camera men and women standing on chairs to try to get a clear shot.
Obama said he met Earnest during his first presidential campaign in 2007 in Iowa, and gave him a close look because the young man in jeans had an important role in his campaign:
"He's just got that all-American, matinee, good-looking thing going. That's helpful, let's face it. Face made for television," Obama said. "Then the guy's name is Josh Earnest, which, if someone is speaking on your behalf, is a pretty good name to have."
Obama said the more he got to know Earnest over the past 10 years, the more he valued his genuine interest in the issues and his integrity. He said Earnest has never disappointed. Obama said Earnest deserves to have been voted the most popular White House press secretary ever by the press corps.
WATCH: Obama Surprises Josh Earnest at White House Briefing
For his part, Earnest thanked his White House colleagues, his wife and 2-year-old son, and said he was aware every day what a privilege it was for him to be the spokesman for the president and to help shape pubic discussion of the issues. Earnest also had praise for his boss, the president, recalling his first impression of Obama back in 2007:
"The then-senator was articulating a vision for America that was inclusive, where we tried to transcend a politics that seemed so small that it was not well equipped to take on the challenges our world faces. He was able to take that on and defend the position forcefully. To see this young and young-looking man step onto the stage and almost defiantly articulate his vision, saying there's a whole lot more that united us than divides us, that resonated with me."
Earnest said his job has not always been easy, but he stressed the importance of holding daily briefings in the Brady Press Briefing Room, saying this is a tradition unique to American democracy. He called on members of the White House press corps to try to protect that tradition, saying it sends a powerful symbol of access and transparency to the rest of the world.
In a revealing moment, Earnest said it would be difficult for him to watch someone else doing the job.
Incoming President-Elect Donald Trump has chosen 45-year-old Sean Spicer to be his press secretary. Spicer is currently the communications director for the Republican National Committee. Spicer has said the Trump team is considering moving members of the White House press corps and the daily briefing out of the White House and into a nearby, larger venue.
Spicer said no decision has been made, and the motivation is to be able to include more journalists in the daily briefing. The White House Correspondents' Association says it will "object strenuously to any move that would shield the president and his advisers from the scrutiny of an on-site White House press corps."