Robert Gibbs experiments on White House press corps

“Morning, guys. How’s everyone?”

With that, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs launched the first press gaggle of the Obama presidency to be held in Mr. Gibbs’ private office. Only a select few reporters were invited – well, more like 50, per Gibbs deputy Bill Burton, who sent out the emails early Friday. About 20 showed up for the 9:45 a.m. session. No TV cameras. Krispy Kremes on the table, courtesy of Margaret Talev of McClatchy News Service.

“It’s an experiment,” Gibbs said, seated comfortably behind his desk, a Top Secret briefing book among the clutter before him. “It’s an attempt to get you guys a readout and answer some of your questions and not wait until the briefing later in the day.”

What Gibbs didn’t say is that getting a flood of reporter questions first thing in the morning also helps him get a read on what the media are working on.

Still, how civilized, how collegial, especially since Gibbs typically holds his on-camera briefing rather late in the day – 1:30, 2 p.m., usually starting late. And in this small venue, we all had front row seats, a treat for those of us usually relegated to the back of the briefing room. Past White House press secretaries have had such informal gaggles in their offices, but after 9/11, that changed. The crowd was just too large.

So did he make any news? Nothing earth-shattering. But fresh quotes on the record are always welcome. Here’s a sample (questions summarized):

Q. Why did Obama go to his house in Chicago last night?
A. “One, he wanted to go just see how it was. And he wanted to, I think he had a couple of friends over to have a little dinner.”

And no, he didn’t have any trouble getting in the front door, Gibbs noted.

Q. How’s he feeling about healthcare reform, now that there won’t be a Senate vote before the August recess?
A. “The most important thing from the president’s perspective is, we’re making progress on the issues that we know have to be dealt with.”

Q. Has the White House altered its plans for August?
A. It’s “safe to assume that for a long time, we planned to continue the discussion on the issues that are important, be it the economy, healthcare, energy, education. That stuff doesn’t – that had always been in many ways … priced into the scenario.”

Q. How does Obama think he did in his Wednesday press conference?
A. “I think the president believes that he was successful … Obviously, it [healthcare] is a complex issue that isn’t something that can be boiled down to 7 or 8 or 10 seconds.”

Q. Does he regret weighing in on the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr.?
A. “If he realized how much of an overall distraction and obsession it would be, I think he would probably regret distracting you guys with obsessions.”

Will Gibbs do more of these small gaggles? He said he would. Stay tuned.

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