Inside the White House
Physically, the White House never seems to change. I've been going there for more than 20 years, off and on, and I'm always struck by the constancy of the setting. The formal areas are quite grand, of course, and meticulously maintained.
Our interview with President Bush yesterday was conducted in a room simply called the library, on the lower level; it's one of several rooms on either side of what's called the cross-hallway - a long corridor that runs from one end of the White House to the other. These rooms are often used for interviews and functions. When Matt Frei interviewed Laura Bush a few months ago, it was conducted just across the hall.
The White House has a permanent staff of conservators, and there are always a few on hand during set-up for an interview. They're the only people who are permitted to touch or move any of the furniture or artwork in any of these rooms, and watching them work always reminds me that while presidents come and go, the White House and its contents belong to the people of America.
Of course the atmosphere and feel of the place do change, a lot, depending on who's sitting in the Oval Office. I first covered the White House during Ronald Reagan's presidency, as a young producer for CBS News, and I remember being struck at the time by the formality of the place, and by a sense that it operated at quite a slow pace (perhaps I was just impatient).
When George HW Bush took over from Reagan, the atmosphere changed overnight. It was as if the pulse rate jumped by about 15 beats per minute, even as the sense of focus diminished a bit.
Later, Bill Clinton's White House had an even less formal feel, and if an interview was set for 1pm, you wouldn't be at all surprised if it actually began at 2pm.
George W Bush, on the other hand, has a well-deserved reputation for punctuality and rigour; for wanting events to happen just when they've been scheduled, and to happen just as they've been designed. Yesterday, he strode into the library ten minutes early, greeted all of us crisply, and was ready for the cameras to roll 30 seconds after sitting down.
I expected him to march right back out as soon as the cameras stopped and the obligatory 'grip and grin' photo had been taken by his official photographer. But he didn't. He lingered, talking to Matt and members of our crew for about five minutes, and then to Matt alone in the map room - another one of those rooms off the cross-hallway - for another 20. (By the way, it had been made clear by the president's staff that any conversations other than when the camera was rolling carried "an expectation of privacy;" that's another way of saying "off the record"). On any president's daily schedule, that extra 25 minutes is an eternity. The fact that George W Bush spent that much unscheduled time with us seemed to surprise even his own staff.
By this time next year, there will be a different feel to the place… a different occupant, atmosphere, and pace. But that staff of careful conservators will be the same.