Twenty-four years ago, newly minted first lady Lady Hillary Clinton wanted to boot journalists out of the White House. Reporters threw a fit, and the Bill Clinton administration abandoned the idea. It even gave up on a less-extreme plan of walling off a door connecting the media workroom to the rest of the West Wing.
Now, President-elect Donald Trump's transition team is talking about doing what the woman he just defeated proposed in 1993. Team Trump is even discussing the same alternative location for the news media that Clinton suggested: the Old Executive Office Building, now known as the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next door to the White House.
Journalists have managed to scuttle this idea before, but Trump loves making history — and he might take extra pleasure in sticking it to the media in a way that Clinton never could.
Incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer told Esquire that “there has been no decision” but acknowledged “there has been some discussion about how to do it.” Esquire reported that “according to three senior officials on the transition team, a plan to evict the press corps from the White House is under serious consideration.”
ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos, Bill Clinton's first press secretary, offered a glimpse of how the 1993 standoff with the media played out when he wrote a memoir, “All Too Human,” in 1999. He recalled saying the following during a tense, private exchange with the late UPI White House reporter Helen Thomas:
I'm not your problem; Hillary is. She and Susan Thomas cooked up this plan to move you to the Old Executive Office Building so we could reopen the indoor pool that used to be right below your feet before Nixon made this the press room. Barbara Bush told her we should show you guys who's boss right from the start. Easy for her to say; she doesn't have to deal with you anymore. Closing the door was our fallback position.
Stephanopoulos went on to write that “Helen was letting me know who was really in charge. I may have been working for the new president, but she was part of the institutional presidency. She could wait us out, and she intended to win.”
The fate of journalists' White House workspace could depend on whether they can apply the same kind of pressure in 2017. White House Correspondents Association President Jeff Mason plans to meet with Spicer to discuss the matter.
“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,” said Mason, a Reuters reporter.