Happy Monday, my faithful Banterduckens, and welcome to this week’s Members Only visit to the White House, where we’ll take an inside look at last Wednesday’s doings at the People’s House. It was a short trip, just a few hours, but I managed to pack a lot of action into that tight timeframe. In fact, I shot so much video that I’ve decided to present some selected moments here, and upload the rest on my YouTube channel for your leisurely perusal, and the perusal of posterity. You can see all of this week’s photos here.
Wednesday, March 25, was the five year and two day anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act, and President Obama was scheduled to deliver remarks celebrating the occasion at 10:30 am. Here’s what that looks like on the press schedule:
10:30AM THE PRESIDENT delivers remarks marking the fifth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act
South Court Auditorium
Open Press (Pre-Set 9:00AM; Final Gather 10:00AM – Stakeout Location)
“Pre-set” is for broadcast media who need to set up equipment ahead of time. Anyone who wants to cover the event has to be at the final gather location by 10, or miss the whole thing. They’re generally pretty strict about adhering to those times, but I have, on occasion, sweet-talked the press office into escorting me into or out of events outside the prescribed time window. Still, just to be sure I made it on time (all for you, dear readers), I planned to leave home at 5 a.m. to allow lots of time for traffic and parking. I only missed that by an hour and a half, and wound up power-walking to the White House with three minutes to spare, at which point I was stopped at the end of Pennsylvania Avenue for an ID check.
In six years, I’ve seen Pennsylvania Avenue closed to the public repeatedly, but I’ve never been stopped for an ID check that far out. Once I cleared that checkpoint, now late for final gather, the Secret Service agents on the street brusquely herded me through a barrier-aided path to the northwest entrance, and when I left the White House a few hours later, the cordon had been lifted, but the barriers remained. There wasn’t any apparent reason for this added appearance of security, no world leaders visiting or other special circumstances, so I chalked it up to the intense pressure the Secret Service is facing after multiple scandals.
Since the fence-jumper incident last year, an ever-increasing array of security displays have been intermittently rolled out, including various configurations of waist-high fence barriers, extra uniformed officers, more K-9 patrols, and occasional messing with reporters that all seem designed to make them look busier. I’d be more impressed if they caught the lady who threw a fake bomb onto the grounds than shunting reporters and tourists through a maze of barriers, but maybe that’s just me.
The Secret Service officers at the gate were in much better spirits than the others, and I breezed through literally seconds before the final gather left for the president’s speech.
I’ve included some of this in this week’s film, as well as selected moments from the speech. One of the things, the main thing, I try to do here is give you something you can’t get watching this stuff on WhiteHouse.gov, and to that end, I secured myself a primo spot in the South Court Auditorium for the president’s remarks. See the cameramen arrayed at the back of the room in the photo above? Well, about five feet behind them is where I was supposed to be, but instead, I got right up front, mere feet from the podium. And no, I did not have a podium pass.
A few of the moments I included here are the somewhat humorous signals between the press aides and the President’s opening act regarding how much to stretch (or not stretch) his remarks, a couple of emotional reactions from audience members whom the president was speaking about, and of course, some verité footage of the before-and-after bustle. I also took a bunch of pictures, which you can click on to enlarge.
As you may have heard, I also, rather spontaneously, initiated our first-ever live Meerkat broadcast (or “Meerkast™”) of a White House briefing, which I thought would also result in lots of bonus footage for you, but it did not, because Meerkat is kind of teh suck. Because of that, you missed poor Randy Foreman trying to entertain my viewers before the briefing while I tended to other matters, and lots of pre-briefing Banter.
Before that, though, I performed The Daily Banter‘s first-ever live White House stand-up from Pebble Beach, which you will be the first to see here:
Aside from the essential and deadly weaknesses of Meerkat, the briefing went well. In what has to be a personal record, I was the third reporter called on during Wednesday’s briefing, and got two questions in. After brief huddles with several of my sources and colleagues, I was headed home before the clock struck three. As a result of my rushed departure, I again neglected to shave and forgot my hat, which Sirius XM’s Jared Rizzi joked would land me on The Daily Caller‘s gossip page again. He wasn’t wrong. I guess it’s nice to know someone’s paying attention.
In other Tommy Christopher news, Patrick Gavin’s film Nerd Prom: Inside Washington’s Wildest Week (co-starring yours truly) is set to premiere on April 9, and I will be in attendance, trying to get you all an inside look at that, too. This will actually be the third political documentary I’ve appeared in, cementing my status as the go-to in any game if Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. The first was the PUMA documentary The Audacity of Democracy (I was the villain), followed by Hating Breitbart(I was the villain again). Nerd Prom is set to have a run in select theaters, the details of which I will pass on as I get them. I’m not sure how much of my contribution survived final cut, but the subject matter is fascinating, and Gavin had excellent sources, so I expect it to be very illuminating.
That’s all for this week, but I would like to continue to ask you all for your feedback here, and maybe some suggestions for a name for this column. Also, during my Meerkast, someone wanted to know if they could suggest a question for Josh Earnest, and would I ask it. The answer to that is yes, and maybe. Regular readers have something of an idea of what goes into a good White House briefing question, so there are excellent questions that I might not ask for a variety of beat-specific reasons, but I am always looking for ideas, and if nothing else, it would be a good conversation point on what that part of my process is like.