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Mark Knoller: Press Corps To Lose Their West Wing Digs -- For Now

(CBS)
CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller explains why the White House press corps is being relocated and wonders if they'll ever return:

In a world in which the White House has precious little to smile about, this week offers a respite of sorts to senior officials.

They get to execute an eviction order on the White House press.

By week's end, reporters and their belongings will have to be out of the West Wing press room. Starting next Monday, the media covering the White House will be working in a conference center across the street and down the block from the Executive Mansion.

The stated reason for the ouster is the long overdue need to replace the heating and air conditioning equipment in that part of the West Wing occupied by the press.

The time will also be used to dress up the old briefing room – including the installation of a big new video screen as a backdrop for the official at the podium. It's a good excuse, and the leaders of the White House Correspondents Association agreed to the relocation.

The group was assured it will be temporary. But some in the press corps doubt whether the media will ever again occupy some of the most valuable office space in the nation's capital.

Initially, the press was assured it would be back in the West Wing by mid-March of 2007. But more recently, the White House gave notice that the repairs and refurbishing of the press facilities would take longer to complete. And now the return date is May 1st. That from a White House that doesn't like to commit to timetables.

Of course, there's nothing binding about that assurance. There's no law that says the White House must provide the press with office space – certainly not in the West Wing. And there are plenty of reasons the White House could give to explain why it needs the West Wing space for other purposes than housing the press.

But to most observers, the relocation of the press won't be noticeable. TV reporters will still be able to do their on-camera reports from their usual positions on the North Lawn of the White House.

And the press can still cover presidential events in the White House – but they'll need special escorts from their new workspace on Jackson Place across from Lafayette Park. And they'll have to return there when the events are over.

Even the daily briefings of press secretary Tony Snow will be conducted in the new, more distant press room – though his office will remain in the West Wing. Apparently, the climate control mechanisms in his part of the building don't need replacing.

But without question, the political climate in the White House will be decidedly different without the press corps in the building.