My day with Obama: Basketball, Tea Parties and an otherwise lazy Sunday

WASHINGTON — Because the entire White House Press Corps can’t logistically traipse around with President Obama everywhere he goes, a small group of journalists are assigned each day to cover his every move on behalf of the rest. Their reports are available for use by any outlet in the press corps, from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal to the smallest of weekly newspapers.

To distribute the workload fairly, news outlets in Washington rotate the duties of being in the pool. Technically, you’re on call the whole day but 99 times out of 100 the pool day runs from the first “call time,” when reporters are expected to be at the White House, until a “full lid” is declared, meaning that the president has no more public events or plans to leave the White House for the day. If big news breaks, obviously that all goes out the window.

Today was MinnPost’s turn to dip our toes in the pool — in fact it’s the first White House pool assignment we’ve ever had.

Of course, this whole pool thing being a daily deal, it’s a bit of a lottery as to how tough the workload is. Saturday was a busy day, with a Pentagon 9/11 memorial and a service project to report on. Today, well, let’s just say it’s unlikely there was much that will be considered breaking news.

I filed three pool reports today before a full lid was declared. They’re reprinted, in order, below.

Pool report 1

It’s 64 degrees and gray clouds cover the skies above Washington. The rain that came down this morning has now tapered off into a fine drizzle but the grounds of the South Lawn are as soggy as your pooler imagines any local fairway might be. All told, it’s a day more suited to ducks than duffers, so there’s no golf in the offing today.

Instead, your pooler is told that POTUS is playing basketball today. Motorcade drove from the South Lawn to Fort Lesley J. McNair, the same place where a little more than a month ago President Obama hooped it up with NBA stars and legends like LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Earvin “Magic” Johnson.

The drive commenced at 9:11 a.m. with a fairly uneventful motorcade ride following down to the Fort. A crowd of about 25 or so stared at the motorcade as we left the White House but didn’t wave and had no signs displayed.

Pool arrived at Fort McNair at 9:21 a.m. Your pooler did not see the president as he exited. Am told by White House staff that Reggie Love is playing basketball with the POTUS today – that’s the only name your pooler has so far. No sign of any NBA all stars this time.

Now holding in the same van we drove down in.

Pool report 2

Pool held near the gym at Fort McNair while POTUS (we’re told) was playing basketball inside. A brick wall obstructed most of the view between the holding area and the gym. Am told that most everything at the fort is closed on Sunday (apart from the fitness center, which is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekends). Your pooler requested to see the basketball game, but was told the president’s workouts are typically closed press.

Those who didn’t stay in the vans (including your pooler) sat on a loading dock under an awning and watched the rain turn increase from misting to lightly falling – the kind you can walk 50 feet in and not really get that wet. Your pooler observed a handful of people walking into the gym during POTUS’ time in there, apparently it remains open to base personnel while POTUS is shooting hoops.

Your pooler did not observe the president returning to his vehicle for the drive back to the White House, which commenced at 11:18 a.m.

Total time at McNair: 1 hour 57 minutes.

Pool report 3

Motorcade departed Fort McNair at 11:18 a.m. Arrived at the White House at 11:35 a.m.

As we drove through the National Mall, your pooler could see a crowd of about 100-200 on the Capitol steps to the right and small groups to the left setting up for a lacrosse game on the Mall. Neither appeared to take any notice of the motorcade. Further along Pennsylvania Avenue, Tea Party members lined the road for at least three to four blocks, including at the gates to the grounds, holding signs and yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flags. A few hoots and hollers, as well as some waving of hands and flags was observed. Additionally, several in the crowd were observed clapping as the motorcade passed.

Signs observed included “We the people, not we the government,” and various reminders that there’s an election coming up in November.

Arrived at the White House at 11:35 a.m.

We have a full lid for the day, so barring an unforseen change in plans, your pooler’s first White House pool assignment is complete.

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