White House reopens after reconstruction
WASHINGTON – President Bush inaugurated the refurbished White House briefing room on Wednesday, showing off a sparkling upgrade to both the guts and face of the famous space.”Welcome back to the West Wing,” he said to the presidential press corps, assembled in the room for the first time since the massive renovation began 11 months ago. “We missed you – sort of.”Bush apparently decided not to take that particular line of humor much further, sticking mostly to acknowledgments of the press’ need for better than the “substandard conditions” of before. Though he joshed that reporters’ questions represent “verbal bullets” and that he doesn’t always like their stories, one line in his prepared remarks was crossed out: “There’s no truth to the rumor some of those new seats can be ejected by pressing a button at Tony’s podium.”Bush seemed most impressed by the new super-powered cooling system, saying “a fellow like me will feel comfortable coming in here answering a few questions without losing 20 pounds.” Indeed, the antiquated old air conditioner was woefully inadequate – and condensation tended to leak from the ceiling when it was particularly overworked.The president and his wife, Laura – who took a personal interest in the project – cut a red-white-and-blue ribbon. The ceremony was timed for airing on network morning shows. Media attendance was severely limited to make space for White House staff.But though the room is now back in use and journalists reoccupied their new work quarters behind it 13 days ago, a finished product is at least a couple of weeks away.Amid the last-minute chaos, the look of the place generally was praised. The media’s work quarters, though yet to be completed, are sleek and uniform – no-frills, industrial-style desks and booths of tan, silver and black. There even are marble walls, granite countertops and stainless-steel appliances.But the briefing room backdrop, intended to be a high-tech wonder appropriate for a modern, 24-hour TV world and closely guarded – literally – until the unveiling, was widely panned. Its layered frosted-glass panels set against a glowing blue background, flanked by 45-inch flat-screen monitors, flags and fake white columns, were derided for lending a gaudy, game-show aura to the most visible face of the White House.Portions of the backdrop rotate to perform different functions. For instance, when White House press secretary Tony Snow held his first daily briefing Wednesday afternoon in the new room, the two monitors that had been rotated out of sight during Bush’s appearance were visible, announcing the obvious: “Daily Press Briefing, July 11, 2007.”The cost of the nearly yearlong renovation is unknown. Early estimates were around $20 million. But the time frame, originally envisioned to be three months, swelled to nine months and then more with many unanticipated problems.