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story.lead_photo.caption White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders blasts Democrats on Tuesday during an impromptu question-and-answer session with reporters in the White House driveway. The day’s press pool reporters, including one from the Democrat-Gazette, were able to witness the event. - Photo by Frank E. Lockwood

WASHINGTON -- You can't squeeze a thousand reporters into the Oval Office, so the White House uses a pool system instead.

When the president greets a head of state or otherwise opens his office to visitors, a small team of newspaper, radio and television journalists often gets to capture the moment. They are pool reporters.

Pool members share their reports with other news organizations. The emphasis is on speed, not eloquence.

The White House posts a rotation at the start of the month, long before the president's schedule has been finalized. Big news organizations -- The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal -- regularly appear on the list. One slot, roughly once a month, is also set aside for a smaller regional newspaper.

On some days, White House pool reporters witness history. On others, they see absolutely nothing.

When the president is in town and has a busy schedule, the West Wing buzzes with activity. When he's gone or makes no public appearances, the day can be dull and devoid of news.

Tuesday was the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's turn.

The agenda was busy. It included a meeting with a visiting head of state, a speech to Republican women leaders, a briefing by President Donald Trump's physician and a daily news conference.

The day started at 8:45 a.m. EST with press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders denouncing Democrats during an impromptu question-and-answer session with a gathering of reporters in the White House driveway.

The Little Rock native blamed the Democrats for failing to strike a deal on immigration and accused them of preventing the Republican-controlled Congress from taking action.

"Hopefully, Democrats will stop playing politics and start governing and getting things done," she said.

The next news occurred shortly after noon, with the arrival of Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Greeted by flag-bearing servicemen in dress uniforms, the longtime head of state heaped praise on Trump, congratulating him on his first year in office and expressing gratitude for American support.

Trump also showered praise on Nazarbayev, an ally of the United States who won his last election with nearly 98 percent of the vote.

"The president is highly respected and has done a great, great job and it's an honor to be with you," Trump said.

Reporters were ushered into the Oval Office just in time for the comments, standing and straining to hear over snapping camera shutters.

Once the president was finished, journalists were ushered out by staff members. A few reporters shouted out questions; most were ignored or drowned out by the noise.

After a break of roughly 15 minutes, the two heads of state switched to the Roosevelt Room where they each read speeches addressing a host of issues, including terrorism, trade and the threat of nuclear proliferation.

Dozens of reporters, including a large contingent from Kazakhstan, squeezed into that room.

Through a translator, Nazarbayev said he hoped to soon have nonstop plane service between the two countries.

During his appearances with Nazarbayev, Trump emphasized America's positive economic news.

"The stock market is way up. Jobs are back. Black unemployment is the best it's ever been in recorded history," he said.

As soon as the speeches ended, the journalists hurried out of the room and worked to prepare their reports. As pool reporter, I typed up short emails hitting a few of the highlights and containing a quote or two. The White House sent those emails to other journalists.

Once the Kazakh-American meetings wrapped up, Trump headed to a meeting with supporters in the old Executive Office Building next door.

The event hadn't been listed on Trump's public schedule; fortunately, it was a two-minute walk away.

Trump received a standing ovation from women who had gathered to hear from administration officials. They were attending the "Conversations with the Women of America" event.

The president greeted Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, Republican National Committee Chairman Ronna Romney McDaniel and presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway, among others.

He also paused to acknowledge Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.

"Arkansas. Great state," he told Rutledge, before noting the size of his 2016 election triumph and the state's ties to Hillary Rodham Clinton, his 2016 Democratic rival and the state's former first lady.

"How did I win Arkansas by so much when she came from Arkansas?" Trump asked.

Speaking to the audience, he again drove home the nation's growing economy.

"We're making incredible progress again," he said.

"The stock market is way up again today and we're setting a record literally all the time," he said. "Had the other side gotten in, the market would've gone down 50 percent from where it was," he said.

After roughly 10 minutes, he wrapped up his remarks and the room broke into cheers.

Later in the afternoon, pool members were able to listen as the president's physician briefed the media on the president's health.

Dr. Ronny Jackson said Trump has a strong heart and "is in excellent health," though it wouldn't hurt him to diet and exercise more.

Asked over and over about the topic, Jackson said he had no concerns about Trump's cognitive abilities.

Pool members, who spent their entire day on Pennsylvania Avenue, remained on standby the rest of the afternoon, in case there were any last-minute items added to Trump's schedule.

At 5:18 p.m., the White House told them they were free to go. There would be no additional public appearances.

As the journalists headed toward the exits, White House staff members remained at their desk. They'd be working into the evening, a spokesman explained.

Frank Lockwood

A Section on 01/17/2018

Print Headline: Democrat-Gazette jumps in deep end; Agenda hectic, reporter on run

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