Barack and Joe go to White Castle … I mean, Ray’s Hell Burger

By , Staff writer

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    President Obama and Vice President Biden receive their cheeseburger lunch orders at Ray's Hell Burger in Arlington, Virginia.
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The Daily Guidance from the White House said “12:30 lunch in Oval Office, closed press.”

But now we know better. By "we," I mean the White House press corps, where this reporter had pool duty Tuesday.

Those wild and crazy guys at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue summoned the motorcade, and off we went across the Roosevelt Bridge into Arlington, Va., to Ray’s Hell Burger -- a joint so new it still doesn't have a sign up.

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Obama and Biden entered through the front door. The press pool -- yours truly included -- entered through the back. At least Barack and Joe didn’t pull rank and cut the line: The leaders of the free world, all spiffed up in suits and ties, stood patiently with the regular lunch crowd, waiting their turn.

Obama then looked toward the pool and said, “Who’s taking orders here? My treat to the pool.”

“Who wants a burger?” Obama said.

Then, to Caren Bohan of Reuters: “You’re in charge of taking everybody’s orders.”

Some declined, but others didn’t want to seem ungracious, so we ordered burgers. (Note: The five of us who did order are making a donation to charity, in lieu of attempting to reimburse POTUS. Caren noted that Obama has fed the press before, such as during the campaign, when he bought ice cream.)

While Obama and Biden waited in line, the lunch crowd stood and gawked, some took pix with cell phones. The two guys in line ahead of them studied their menus, oblivious to who was behind them.

When Obama and Biden reached the front, Obama greeted the two order-takers. A guy named Tim Murray took Obama’s order.

There’s still some debate among the press about exactly what Obama ordered, since it was hard to hear. He definitely had a burger. I heard him say “basic cheeseburger, medium well.” But someone else heard him say “Swiss mushroom burger.” A TV sound guy says he ordered a cheddar burger -- and he’s got the best sound equipment, so I’m going with that. He definitely asked Mr. Murray for “spicy mustard, if you have it.” There may have also been talk of tater tots. Clearly, we’re all destined to be flawless witnesses next time we wind up in court.

Then Obama took an order for his body guy, Reggie Love, and relayed the press’s order as well.

“These are to go, 'cuz you guys aren’t gonna have tables.” Then: “We’re paying, or these people [the pool] are gonna write about how we’re free-loading.”

Obama pulled out some bills and paid, putting a $5 bill in the tip jar.

Biden ordered a Swiss cheese burger with jalapeno peppers. Biden paid for his order separately, with cash. He also got some food to go.

Then Obama said to the pool: “You guys are cheap dates. I can’t believe I couldn’t get more of you to order a burger.”

Obama and Biden sat at a table and had their lunch, while the pool waited outside. At 1:05, they emerged. Crowds cheered as Obama stood on the running board of his limo and waved.

Motorcade back at White House at 1:14 pm. Obama and Biden emerged from the same limo. No doubt they were prepping for the next event on their calendar -- a closed-press meeting with President Shimon Peres of Israel.

I closed my pool report with: “I’m still waiting for my burger.” But I just heard from the pool minder, Ben Finkenbinder, who says my burger is waiting for me.

Gotta run.

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