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Obama spokesman Gibbs sounds eager for future strategist role

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Robert Gibbs, spokesman for President Obama, says Ukraine is announcing it will get rid of its stockpile of highly enriched uranium, enough to build several nuclear weapons, by 2012.

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He explained, employing his quote-defying dialect: "If all you do is get focused on what this does to this, and what this does to this, you will be so paralyzed that you will never make a decision. It's not easy. If you take the long view, you have to take it."

Inside the theater

Gibbs's public role is concerned with more immediate demands, and his press-secretary perch is less lofty than it used to be.

Gibbs's lectern stands in a room that was once the White House swimming pool and, before that, a laundry room. In the Gibbs era of Obama message control, reporters in the briefing theater are slowly being reduced to a chorus complaining about access, or, worse, scenery in an anachronistic play. An hour or so before a 1:30 press briefing last month, reporters started staking out spots among the blue leather seats. The foreign reporters trickled in first, then the American print reporters, then the swaggering television reporters. Gibbs marched through a sliding door and took his place at the lectern.

"Apologies for the delays, guys," he said.

Then he dispensed with the niceties. By and large, positive coverage has always been a fact of life in the Obama universe, so it's not surprising that the administration's press secretary, especially one who is personally close to the president, is less interested in wooing the reporters in the room than sparring with them.

Gibbs, who looks older than his 39 years, had on one of his favored pastel ties. He frequently made careful, no-smudge adjustments of his glasses and held a silver pen in his right hand but never used it. He gamely took a question about Rahm Emanuel lobbying then-Rep. Eric Massa in the nude, and then wanly addressed further grievances about lack of access. Chip Reid of CBS News challenged Gibbs on why the president seemed to not be calling enough members of Congress in support of health-care reform. The press secretary volleyed and then abruptly moved on.

"I guess you didn't like that one," Reid observed.

Chuck Todd of NBC asked what happened to the Nobel Prize money the president had won.

"Bill, give the money back," Gibbs said, turning to Burton, his deputy, who sat against the wall taking notes on a laptop. "You know, I thought it was weird that Bill wanted to buy my lunch."

Toward the end of the conference, Steven Thomma, a McClatchy correspondent, asked why, on a trip to Philadelphia the day before, organizers prevented reporters from talking to attendees at the event.

"That was for the benefit of the people," Gibbs chortled.

The joke didn't go over well.


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