It was a quiet afternoon at the White House toward the end of a four-day week. Network correspondents were preparing for their evening newscasts, cameramen were scattered throughout the briefing room and outside, some reporters had stepped out for coffee.
Minutes after 4:00 p.m., a voice came on the overhead speaker announcing that press secretary Sarah Sanders would hold a briefing in “five minutes.”
The scramble was on.
For a White House that has held increasingly rare briefings, the short notice was unusual yet not surprising. And as the press appearances have shrunk, the importance of each opportunity to ask questions has increased.
Still photographers ran to secure their spots. Television camera crews and audio technicians rushed to turn on, focus and color balance cameras and wire up correspondents for live shots. The White House audiovisual staff turned the podium microphones on and the lights up at the last minute.
And when Sanders took the podium, instead of taking questions she introduced a “very special guest” – the President of the United States.
“Hello, everybody, beautiful place, I haven’t seen it,” President Donald Trump said as he walked in, wishing the press assembled a happy new year.
Thursday marked Trump’s first official appearance at the briefing room podium nearly two years into his administration. But despite being billed as a press briefing, and taking place in the briefing room, Trump did not deliver a briefing (he took no questions) and instead gave a statement pressing for his border wall.
His visit was such a surprise that the podium wasn’t dressed with a presidential seal. Journalists were still filling in seats in around the back of the briefing room, which is normally packed and standing room only for briefings, as the President began to speak.
He offered his warm congratulations to newly elected House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, praising what he called her “tremendous, tremendous achievement.”
On the first day of divided government during his administration, Trump cited infrastructure as one area where the White House could work with the Democratic-controlled House. Then, Trump made a push for his border wall, introducing some members of the National Border Patrol Council and National ICE Council.
The remarks came on the 13th day of a partial government shutdown as Democrats have officially taken control of the House and negotiations to fund the government have reached a stalemate due to ongoing disputes about border security and wall funding. The White House won’t say whether the President would accept a funding package with less than $5 billion for a border wall, but leadership from both parties in Congress are expected to meet with the President at the White House Friday morning.
The President said he had been sitting in the Oval Office with the border patrol agents in a previously scheduled meeting and decided he wanted to “see the press” so the agents could “tell them about the importance of the wall.”
“First time I’ve ever done this. The first time I’ve done it, and I’ve done it for you (the National Border Patrol Council members). And I’m very proud of it,” he said.
Trump refused to take questions about the government shutdown, walking out of the briefing room along with the border patrol agents, Sanders, communications director Bill Shine and social media director Dan Scavino, a mere eight minutes after entering.
One reporter, who had gotten word of the briefing but was across town on Capitol Hill, rushed back across Pennsylvania Avenue, but missed it altogether.
“It was over before I even got there,” the reporter texted.
CNN’s Sarah Westwood, Khalil Abdallah and Kaitlan Collins contributed to this report.