By: Ben Feller
President Barack Obama startled members of the White House press corps on Thursday when he walked through their working area of the West Wing to say hello, get to know some new faces and comment on their digs ? right down to the vending machine selections.
“Good to see you guys. I just wanted to make sure that I had a chance to say hello,” Obama said on his second full day on the job.
With little notice ? some media outlets heard an announcement, but some never did ? the president walked through the press briefing room, causing a wild scene.
Reporters started running toward him, wary of missing a single word. When one reporter who hadn’t spotted Obama yet asked what everyone was rushing toward, another one responded: “The big guy.”
Obama made it to the back of the briefing room, in a narrow hallway, where he shook hands.
“I gotta say, it’s smaller than I thought,” the president said as he looked around for the first time.
He introduced himself to those whom he didn’t already know from the long campaign trail and said it would take a little while to learn everyone’s names.
The president then continued on, walking by the media outlets’ booths on the same floor.
Obama asked about the reasoning behind why certain media outlets had work space where they did. When he got an answer involving the intricacies of press corps protocol, Obama responded: “This is worse than the Middle East here ? who’s sitting where and all that stuff.”
When a reporter tried to quiz him about a lobbyist chosen for a top Defense Department job, Obama begged off. “I came down here to visit. I didn’t come down here ? this is what happens. I can’t end up visiting you guys and shaking hands if I am going to get grilled every time I come down here.”
Obama was willing to field some lighter questions. Yes, he’s discovered the gym in the White House residence. No, he hasn’t played basketball yet on the outdoor White House court because it’s been too cold.
As he walked through the area where journalists have lunch, Obama noticed a pair of vending machines that dispense soda and junk food.
He told those gathered that perhaps they ought to have “some healthier snacks.”
Then he walked through the basement quarters, where several other news outlets set up shop.
“We will try to have a relationship that’s respectful and where you guys feel like you’re actually getting answers,” Obama told the media.