WASHINGTON – One of the most visible rooms in the White House is disappearing.
President Bush bid goodbye Wednesday to the run-down press quarters that are ready for gutting and renovation. "I know you've been complaining about the digs for a while," Bush told reporters. "We felt your pain."
Bush made a surprise appearance in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, named after the press secretary who was wounded by a bullet meant for President Reagan in 1981. Despite its venerable address, the room has broken chairs, ripped carpeting, outdated wiring, water leaking from the ceiling and a faulty air conditioner.
Reporters will have to leave the White House for an estimated nine months while the briefing room and their workspaces are renovated. The daily press briefings will continue at a temporary space across Lafayette Park.
Bush asked the press for their desires for the new space, whether they would prefer the ripped upholstery be replaced with suede or velvet. Journalists pressed against the walls in the standing-room-only space shouted out that they wanted more room.
"You want to double the size?" Bush asked encouragingly. Then he playfully snapped, "Forget it!"
Brady was on hand for the final briefing, along with other "former spinmeisters," as Bush called them, who worked in the Ford, Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations.
So was former ABC News White House correspondent Sam Donaldson, who replayed his role as a relentless presidential questioner. As the president tried to make some light remarks, Donaldson repeatedly shouted out from the back of the room, "Should Mel Gibson be forgiven?"
Bush did not wade into that controversy. "I can't hear you," he said. "I'm over 60."