WASHINGTON — At the top of his last briefing as White House press secretary Wednesday, Jay Carney acknowledged to his adversaries in the media “how hard it can get in here, how hot it can sometimes be.”
It was a fitting metaphor for the temperature in the briefing room as Washington baked in near-100-degree heat outside. And it was a recognition of the often tense exchanges during his 3 ½ years as President Obama’s chief spokesman.
But as he prepares to leave the White House at the end of the week, Carney praised reporters, saying it was “always a pleasure” and adding that he had always sought to help reporters do their job even as he served Obama.
“That is what I’ve tried to do,” Carney told a packed briefing room. “You’ll be the judge of my success, at least in part.”
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Carney said he loved “my years as a reporter,” but when a journalist later asked whether a seat should be saved for him on the other side of the podium, he laughed and said it was — finally — a question he could answer definitively. (The clear implication: He is not returning to reporting.)
Reporters in the room, including several who regularly expressed frustration with Carney’s refusal to directly answer their questions, offered him good wishes and thanked him for his service.
But the goodbyes were followed quickly by the kinds of questions that had created the frustrations in the first place: Does the administration want Nouri al-Maliki out as prime minister of Iraq? When will the president decide about airstrikes? Has the president decided to block the Keystone XL pipeline?
Carney answered none of them directly, returning repeatedly to his White House talking points. But he also got in a couple of off-the-cuff quips. When a reporter quoted former Vice President Dick Cheney as saying that “rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many,” Carney jumped in.
“Which president was he talking about?” Carney asked, without cracking a smile.
Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff, came in at the end of Carney’s briefing to thank him for his “unrelenting” service to the White House and in working with “our partners” in the press.
“We are going to miss you dearly,” McDonough said.