Robert Gibbs Bids the White House Farewell
The final White House briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was just like his first one over two years ago: it began late. Really late. Three hours and 17 minutes late, to be exact.This time, he could legitimately blame Hosni Mubarak, whose resignation as President of Egypt inflicted more than the usual chaos on Gibbs' schedule. His last appearance at the lectern was scheduled for 12:15PM. It got underway at 3:32PM.
"Obviously Gibbs' departure is not the biggest one today," joked Pres. Obama who accompanied Gibbs to the lectern for the last time.
"Robert has not only been an extraordinary press secretary, but he has been a great friend," said Pres. Obama. "You could not ask for somebody better in the foxhole with you during all the twists and turns of my candidacy, and then the incredible challenges that we faced over the last two years."
Gibbs has served as one of Barack Obama's top aides since his run for the Senate in 2004.
"I didn't have a lot of money, so all I could afford was Gibbs," kidded the president. But the ribbing belied his genuine affection for his 39-year old spokesman.
Two years in the saddle as press secretary can feel like the longest two years of anybody's life. They can go by fast but they pack the wear and tear of double the time, if not more.
On the list of burnout jobs, White House Press Secretary is near the top, especially when it comes after a grueling two-year presidential campaign.
Gibbs freely admits his family has had take a back-seat to his White House obligations and responsibilities. He often laments he hasn't been there for his son Ethan as often as he should have been. But that changes first thing Monday, insisted Gibbs as he described to reporters what he'll be doing on his first day as a non-government employee.
"On Monday, the former press secretary will travel with Ethan Gibbs to school," said Gibbs, looking forward to driving his 7-year old son to school.
Further speculating on what his first day off the job will be like, Gibbs expects he'll watch Sports Center on ESPN and take a bike ride.
He's also looking forward to taking a nap on Monday afternoon "before walking several hundred feet to the bus stop" to greet son Ethan home from school.
Gibbs isn't looking to be Mr. Mom, but his life will shift decidedly into low gear. He'll make a living giving speeches. Newly-retired White House press secretaries can rake in a year's pay in less than a month of appearances.
In fact, when a reporter at his final briefing asked him to assess the president's relationship with the press, Gibbs didn't want to give it away for free.
"Soon somebody's going to pay me a lot of money to give that assessment and I look forward to sharing that with them," said Gibbs, as if saying no one will buy the cow if he gives away milk.
His paying customers are also certain to ask about his relationship with the press. And like each of his predecessors over the last 30 years that I've covered the White House, it's had its ups and downs.
Even at his last briefing he faced complaints that he routinely failed to get back to reporters with answers to questions that stumped him at the lectern.
White House reporters are a demanding lot. They want their questions, phone calls and e-mails answered and answered now. Often, Gibbs faced questions he didn't want to answer and would put off reporters by saying he'll get back us, but never did.
Gibbs, like his predecessors, conducted himself on the job in the knowledge that he worked for Pres. Obama, not the press. That means the president's interests take precedence over those of reporters.
Gibbs has had run-ins with members of the press whose stories or news organizations he felt were not being fair to his boss. The Obama White House has made no secret of its varying levels of antipathy to the right-leaning prime-time commentators of the Fox News Channel.
Over the course of his two years as press secretary, Gibbs has coined some unique phrases that made it to my Twitter quote-of-the day.
"I don't have a special relationship with the term special relationship."
"I don't want to dip my toe into the pool of generalization...and that I am not going to do."
But last month, on the day he announced he'd be stepping down from his post, he sounded most heart-felt when he said:
"I would not trade the worst day I've had here for many of the best days that you might have in another job."
Serving as press secretary is tough duty, but it also gives you a seat on national and world events few others get to occupy.
But in his office the other day, when I asked Gibbs whether he felt the best part of his life was over, he was confident it was not, as he anticipated being a more attentive dad to Ethan.
Over the coming months, he'll continue to offer private advice to Pres. Obama and then become part of his re-election campaign in 2012.
Until then, you'll find him with his family, watching sports on TV, and taking naps - all firm in the belief that he more than earned it.
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