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New White House press secretary's first time in the hot seat

By / January 22, 2009

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs holds his first press briefing, Thursday.

Ron Edmonds/AP

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Washington

You thought it was packed on the Mall for inauguration? Try the White House press room for spokesman Robert Gibbs’s first briefing Thursday. It was a vision of human gridlock, all seats taken and all available inches along the sidelines packed with additional reporters, photographers, and cameramen.

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Mr. Gibbs strode into the room at 1:40 p.m., 10 minutes late, wearing an Obama-esque dark suit, white shirt, and powder-blue tie. Without any fuss, he launched into his first announcement: Barack Obama has added a new fixture to the presidential schedule, a daily economic briefing, like the daily intelligence briefing. Each evening the president will receive a memo on the economy, to be updated the next morning by Larry Summers, his top in-house economist. With the economy teetering on the edge, Mr. Obama wants daily input on how it’s all going, just as he does on national security matters.

So far so good. After a few questions on Guantanamo, a topic well-ploughed during an earlier briefing today, that do-over swearing-in came up. If the White House counsel’s office was concerned enough about the botched oath-taking on Tuesday to invite Chief Justice John Roberts over Wednesday evening to it all again – this time, correctly – did that mean Obama also re-signed all the executive orders he had issued earlier that day? No, Gibbs replied. “The counsel’s office believes the president had been sworn in effectively,” he said. But “out of an abundance of caution,” counsel Greg Craig had recommended that Mr. Roberts come on over anyway.

So why not have Obama re-sign those executive orders anyway – out of an abundance of caution? Gibbs wouldn’t nibble. In a performance worthy of Scott McClellan, Gibbs repeated himself, ad nauseum, until a weary press corps gave up. He repeated the phrase “abundance of caution” seven times.

We also learned that the Obamas are settling nicely into their new home. Barack even managed to slip upstairs for dinner with Michelle and the kids between events on Wednesday.

Obama Has a BlackBerry!

In all, not a whole lot of new information was imparted – until close to the end. Does Obama still have a BlackBerry? Yes. Ding-ding-ding! Pay dirt! Everyone snapped to attention, pens flying, fingers typing, to Gibbs’s amusement. “Oh, look at that!” he observed.

During the transition, the BlackBerry issue was a source of contention between the president and the folks in charge of security. Obama, as we all know, is deeply attached to his electronic umbilical cord to the outside world, and refused to give it up. Apparently he has a bad case of Fear of White House Bubble. He fervently does not want to suffer the fate of past presidents, who grow insulated and isolated from the rest of humanity. So, according to Gibbs, a compromise was reached. Senior staff and “a small group of personal friends” are allowed to communicate with Obama on the 'berry. The use is limited and security is enhanced. All communication is subject to the Presidential Records Act. What’s his e-mail address? Fugeddaboutit.

So how did Gibbs do? He’s a pro, and we knew he would handle the klieg lights just fine. He was Obama’s press secretary during the campaign, and already knew many in the room. Gibbs performed for 49 minutes in a low-key, professional way, with flashes of humor.

“Thanks guys, seeya tomorrow,” he said as he stepped off the podium.