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Bush, Reporters Say Goodbye to Press Room

Times Staff Writers

The White House on Wednesday bade farewell, at least temporarily, to a frequent thorn in the Bush administration’s side: the presidential press corps, whose members are moving across the street to make way for a nine-month renovation of their currently cramped quarters.

“I know you’ve been complaining about the digs for a while,” President Bush told reporters during a surprise appearance to toast the overhaul of the press room, which was built over the White House’s indoor swimming pool in 1970.

Bush stood behind the lectern, flanked by Press Secretary Tony Snow and several of Snow’s predecessors, including Dee Dee Myers from the Clinton administration and James S. Brady, who was shot during a 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan and for whom the press room was named.

“So this is like the end of an old era,” Bush said, and borrowed a Clinton refrain to add: “And let me just say, we felt your pain.”

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Turning to the packed press room, Bush then needled reporters about the pending improvements.

“So, like, suede chairs? Is that what you’re looking -- kind of velvet armchairs? Armchairs. Everybody wants to be able to lean back,” he cracked. “It looks a little crowded in here. And so you want to double the size?”

When cries of “yes!” filled the room, Bush quipped: “Forget it.”

There was even some questioning from an old presidential nemesis: ABC News’ Sam Donaldson, who became famous for shouting questions at Reagan in that room. On Wednesday he appeared in the back to boom out another query, about whether Mel Gibson should be forgiven for his anti-Semitic remarks.

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“Is that Sam Donaldson?” Bush asked. “Forget it. You’re a has-been. We don’t have to answer has-been’s questions.”

Donaldson persisted, yelling his question again and again.

“I can’t hear you, I’m over 60, just like you,” Bush said, cupping his ear just as Reagan used to do to avoid Donaldson’s questions.

“Ronald Reagan could get away with that, sir,” Donaldson shot back.

Some reporters then asked Bush to reflect on his favorite moment in the press room.

That was easy: “My best moment in here is when my press conference ended,” he said.

With that, Bush headed to Ohio, where he met with flood victims in Lake County, hard hit by storms last weekend, and attended a reception that raised $1.5 million for the campaign of Republican gubernatorial candidate J. Kenneth Blackwell. A Rasmussen Reports poll released Tuesday showed Blackwell 11 percentage points behind his Democratic challenger, six-term U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland.

As Ohio’s secretary of state, Blackwell played a pivotal role in the 2004 presidential race, rejecting thousands of ballots and resisting calls for a recount amid reports of voting machine shortages and other irregularities. Bush won the state by about 118,000 votes.

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Bush has raised $160 million for GOP candidates and committees this election cycle, according to the Republican National Committee.

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Hennessy-Fiske reported from Kirtland, Ohio, and Wallsten from Washington.


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