This week, the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room finally returned to full capacity for the first time since March 16, 2020, marking a hopeful landmark as the White House returns to pre-pandemic norms.
The change was announced by the White House Correspondents Association on Sunday, along with the reintroduction of the pre-pandemic seating chart for the press room, featuring reporters from NBC, Fox News, CBS News, the Associated Press, ABC News, Reuters and CNN, reported Politico. The WHCA also announced that press capacity limitations for the North Lawn and indoor press workspaces would be lifted as well.
For over a year, the White House press briefing room had a severely limited amount of available seating, forcing the WHCA to issue seating rotations to give each outlet an opportunity to ask their questions – an arrangement that had pleased then-President Donald Trump who admitted back in March 2020 that there were only “two or three” reporters that he actually liked, Philip Wegman of RealClearPolitics recounts. “We should get rid of another 75 to 80% of you,” the president remarked at the time.
In late May, the press room returned to 50% capacity, allowing – for the first time in over a year – a full lineup of news outlets to fill the 24 available seats. However, some reporters were alarmed on Monday to see the James S. Brady room make such a quick turnaround. White House reporter and Co-author of Politico’s West Wing Playbook Alex Thompson noted that the briefing room had around 83 attendees on the first day back – far more than the available 49 seats.
Shortly after the two-minute warning leading into the press briefing, an unnamed voice asked the additional reporters not to stand in the aisles, as was customary prior to the pandemic. However, the request was not heeded.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, who has been giving briefings to a limited audience since she first started at the White House, was quick to adjust to the crowded room, reports CBS News. “I’m very thrown off to where everyone’s seated – I’ll adjust to it,” Psaki quipped before taking questions.
According to a survey issued by the WHCA, more than 97% of its members reported being fully vaccinated, serving as motivation for the most recent changes. As early as two weeks ago, journalists were required to take nasal swabs before entering the briefing room. Now, per the WHCA’s new guidance, fully vaccinated journalists do not need to be tested and the White House will not be asking for proof of vaccination.
The White House Correspondents Association’s President Zeke Miller wrote in the announcement that, “Since the onset of the pandemic, our priority has been to keep journalists safe, while ensuring that the critical work of informing the public could continue uninterrupted.”
“We appreciate the sacrifices made by every member of the press corps and we thank you all for your cooperation over the last 15 months,” he added.