Priebus spoke on ABC’s “This Week” hours after Esquire magazine published a report that suggested that the media could be permanently evicted from their longtime space in the White House itself to other buildings nearby. In that report, incoming White House Communications Director Sean Spicer acknowledged there has been “some discussion about how to do it.”
“The only thing that’s been discussed is whether or not the initial press conferences are going to be in that small press room,” Priebus said Sunday, calling the 49-seat briefing room “very, very tiny” and suggesting a larger space in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building — located just west of the White House — could better accommodate scores of reporters who want to cover the Trump administration.
“You can fit four times the amount of people in the press conference, allowing more press, more coverage from all over the country,” he said. “Some of this is getting way out of whack, and I think people should be encouraged that we have so many people who want to participate.”
He did not mention evicting journalists from their workspace in the White House, located steps from the West Wing offices of the president and senior administration officials. The Esquire report quoted an anonymous “senior official” referring to the media as “the opposition party” and saying: “I want ’em out of the building. We are taking back the press room.”
Jeff Mason, a Reuters reporter who chairs the White House Correspondents’ Association, said Sunday he is meeting with Spicer to get more details about Trump’s plans. He noted that the White House briefing room is already open to all reporters who request access.
“We support that and always will,” he said. “We object strenuously to any move that would shield the president and his advisers from the scrutiny of an on-site White House press corps.”
Vice President-elect Mike Pence also addressed the Esquire report in a CBS “Face the Nation” interview aired Sunday. Like Priebus, he said any change would be to “accommodate the increased interest” in the new administration and said “no decision has been made” on whether to do so.
It’s not unheard of for an incoming administration to consider changes to the media working space in the White House, but since the current press room arrangement was formalized during the Nixon administration, no president has followed through on changes that could be interpreted as an effort to shield oneself from public scrutiny.
George Stephanopoulos, who questioned Priebus on Sunday, wrote about an abortive plan from then-first lady Hillary Clinton to convert the White House press office back into an indoor swimming pool in “All Too Human,” his memoir of his time as a senior Clinton aide.
“Barbara Bush told her we should show you guys who’s boss right from the start,” Stephanopoulos wrote, quoting himself speaking to reporters at the time. “Easy for her to say; she doesn’t have to deal with you anymore.”
Trump Team Considers Moving Press Briefings From White House’s West Wing
The incoming administration of Donald Trump is considering moving the press from their current location in the West Wing to a larger space, but there are concerns that reporters will be evicted entirely from the prime location at the White House.
Trump’s chief of staff Reince Priebus, in an interview on “This Week” on ABC, said that under discussion is whether to move briefings to a larger space in the Old Executive Office Building, which is on the White House grounds, to accommodate more people. He noted that the existing briefing room only seats 49 people.
“So no one is moving out of the White House,” he said. “That is the White House, where you can fit four times the amount of people in the press conference, allowing more press, more press coverage from all over the country to have those press conferences. That’s what we’re talking about.”
Esquire reported on Saturday that the incoming administration was considering a plan to move the press out of the West Wing entirely, where briefings are held and where a number of news organizations have work stations.
Priebus insisted that “the only thing that’s been discussed is whether or not the initial press conferences are going to be in that small press room.”
The White House Correspondents Association issued a statement from its president, Jeff Mason of Reuters, saying that he would be meeting with Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer to “get more clarity” on plans.
“The briefing room is open now to all reporters who request access,” Mason said. “We support that and always will. The WHCA will fight to keep the briefing room and West Wing access to senior administration officials open. We object strenuously to any move that would shield the president and his advisers from the scrutiny of an on-site White House press corps.”
At the start of Bill Clinton’s term in 1993, a plan was considered to move press conferences to the Old Executive Office Building, which is across the street from the West Wing, but that was quickly abandoned in the face of complaints from news organizations. The current space was built atop a swimming pool during the administration of Richard Nixon. Press conferences were moved to the White House Conference Center from 2006 to 2007 during the term of George W. Bush as the space underwent renovations.