Still standing room only in the White House briefing room

President Barack Obama's White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs arrives to brief the media in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington on January 23, 2009.

For the second day in a row, presidential press secretary Robert Gibbs drew a standing room only crowd for his daily briefing.

But the scene on Friday was a good deal less chaotic than at Gibbs’ first briefing on Thursday. Then, according to Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank’s count, there were more than 100 reporters crammed three deep in the aisles as well as 49 in assigned seats. On Friday, the crush was not as severe, nor the room as hot.

Gibbs nattily dressed, bringing news nuggets

At the 1:00 p.m. appointed start time Friday afternoon, Gibbs aide Josh Earnest appeared at the front of the room to announce a new “target” time of 1:15. Gibbs appeared three minutes after the target, nattily dressed in a grey suit, white shirt, and purple tie.

Gibbs served the assembled reporters several news nuggets including:

* President Obama will likely deliver a State of the Union Address to Congress in February. He quipped that network TV executives had expressed concern about the scheduling lest the speech conflict with “Dancing with the Stars.”

* President Obama called several foreign leaders on Friday including Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and Saudi King Abdullah.

* President Obama will go to Capitol Hill next week to consult with Republican lawmakers on an economic recovery plan. Gibbs said that at a bipartisan, bicameral meeting of Congressional leaders at the White House Friday morning there was agreement “that we must act quickly to stimulate the economy.”

Ducking like a pro

But in his 39-minute turn at the podium, Gibbs was adept at ducking questions he saw as problematic. When asked about reports that suspected U.S. drones fired missiles into Pakistan on Friday killing at least 14 people, Gibbs responded, “On Pakistan, as you know, I’m not going to comment on those matters.”

On other issues, he declined to comment citing the principle that as spokesman he should not preempt announcements by his boss.

One reason for the very strong attendance at Gibbs’ briefings is the difficulty of contacting the press office in other ways as the Obama team settles into new quarters, new responsibilities, and new routines.

Not even the voice mail wants to talk

Reporters who dialed the main press room number on Friday got a recording apologizing for not answering and then saying “sorry you cannot leave a message now because this user’s mailbox is full.” Calls to the number for the press secretary’s assistant drew a constant busy signal.

One thing Gibbs and crew know they can count on: reporters will be calling back next week.

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