From POTUS, a rare visit on 'Baby AF1' -- and another sad goodbye

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 29, 2010; 5:27 AM

President Obama made a rare visit to the back of Air Force One on Wednesday night for a brief chat with reporters -- the kind of access that his press corps has been grumbling has been too infrequent in his White House.

Obama -- or POTUS, the commonly used acronym for "President of the United States" -- held an impromptu gaggle in the back of the modified Boeing 757 that the media have dubbed "Baby AF1" as the presidential entourage headed back to Andrews Air Force Base from a two-day Midwest trip.

It was loud, and hard to hear, according to the handful of reporters on the plane. But the president fielded a half-dozen questions in the 11-minute exchange above the clouds.

He praised the U.S. Senate for moving forward to debate reform of the financial system after Republicans decided to stop blocking the process late Wednesday. He vowed that the government will examine the new Arizona immigration law, but acknowledged that "there may not be an appetite" in Congress to take on the broader immigration issue this year.

And asked about his upcoming Supreme Court choice, Obama criticized conservative jurists for becoming activists for their view of the law and said that "the concept of judicial restraint cuts both ways."

The result: a meaningful, if brief, exchange between the leader of the free world and the media who follow him. It comes as news organizations have been ramping up criticism of his White House press operation for being overly tight with information and access.

The Washington Post this month featured a story about press secretary Robert Gibbs and the sometimes strained relationship with White House reporters. And on Wednesday, the Politico Web site published a long story full of complaints from the media. Among the points: "Day-to-day interaction with Obama is almost nonexistent, and he talks to the press corps far less often than Bill Clinton or even George W. Bush did."

So did the White House send Obama back to prove all that wrong? Perhaps. Maybe that argues for a few more of those articles. Does once a month sound about right?

Returning the favor

In November 2008, then-96-year-old Dorothy I. Height, a hero of the civil rights movement, talked with Fox 5's Will Thomas about her feeling watching the first African American get elected president.

"It was a kind of a moment when you felt in every inch of your body the significance of it," Height said.

On Thursday, Obama will be the one taking note of the significance of Height's life as he eulogizes her at her funeral. Height died on April 20 at the age of 98.

In a statement issued on the day of her death, Obama called her "the godmother of the Civil Rights Movement and a hero to so many Americans" and said she "devoted her life to those struggling for equality."

The eulogy will be the third that Obama has given as president. He eulogized former senator Edward M. Kennedy upon his death last summer. And on Sunday the president offered somber remarks at the funeral of the 29 miners who died in West Virginia.

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