WASHINGTON (AP) — The daily White House press briefing went high-tech Wednesday. Press secretary Sean Spicer fielded questions from journalists around the country who participated via Skype, alongside their Washington-based colleagues in the room.
Spicer said at his first briefing last month that he planned to open the daily Q-and-A session to journalists who live more than 50 miles away from Washington as well as to news organizations whose reporters lack passes that grant daily access to the building.
"I think this can benefit us all by giving a platform to voices that are not necessarily based here in the Beltway," Spicer said at the time, using the nickname for I-495, the interstate highway that encircles Washington.
On Wednesday, Spicer delivered his customary opening statement, then turned to Kimberly Kalunian, a general assignment reporter at WPRI-TV, a CBS affiliate in Spicer's native Rhode Island, to ask the first question.
Kalunian asked about the status of federal funding for Providence, one of several "sanctuary" cities nationwide that shield immigrants living in the country illegally from law enforcement. President Donald Trump has pledged to cut federal funding for such cities.
Spicer said Trump wants to keep America safe and that he has made clear that taxpayers shouldn't help fund sanctuary cities.
The White House invited three other reporters to participate via Skype: Natalie Herbick from Fox 8 in Cleveland, Ohio; Lars Larson, host of "The Lars Larson Show," based in Portland, Oregon, and Jeff Jobe, of Jobe Publishing in south-central Kentucky.
Herbick asked about Trump's plan to help urban centers like Cleveland.
Larson, a conservative talk-radio host who addressed Spicer as "Commander Spicer," asked whether Trump will start returning federal land to the people, and whether Trump will direct the Forest Service to start logging the nation's forests to provide jobs and curb the cost to the government of fighting forest fires.
Jobe, the final Skype questioner, asked about Trump's plans to reverse rules restricting coal mining, coal burning and coal exports.
The White House hasn't said how regularly Spicer will take questions over Skype.
Frank Sesno, director of the George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs, called the addition of Skype questioners an "interesting and even refreshing development." Sesno, a former White House correspondent for CNN, said the questions asked by these outside reporters will be very different from the questions that will be asked by those seated in the briefing room.
"There's a 'reality check' component to having people engaged in the conversation who are outside of Washington," he said.
Spicer's announcement that the White House planned to add the Skype seats came during a tense period between the White House press corps and top aides to Trump, who had talked openly about their desire to move journalists to a larger work space outside of the White House to accommodate the scores of reporters who they said are interested in covering Trump.
The White House briefing room has just 49 seats; people pack the aisles on days when there is high interest in the daily briefing.
Trump has tabled, at least for the time being, any plans to evict reporters from the White House.
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