By Brian Williams, Anchor and managing editor
Several of us gathered today for our annual lunch with the President on the day of the State of the Union address -- and while the President is known not to be feeling any pangs of wistfulness or sentimentality as he prepares to address a joint session of Congress for perhaps the last time: it was clear early on that today's gathering would be different than past years.
We were first taken to the Blue Room, where Presidents Tyler and Taft stared down on us from their portraits, until it was time to pile into the elevator to the residence portion of the White House, where we had a very nice meal and good conversation in the yellow oval room -- followed afterward by a stroll through the quarters to the President's study, which was formerly President Lincoln's office. For fellow Presidential history buffs, the room is a sensory assault: there's McKinley's treaty table (beneath the painting of McKinley standing alongside it), there's Grant's couch (beneath Grant's painting), there's Lincoln on the wall, not far from the engraving on the mantel mentioning "President Johnson" (that would be Andrew and not Lyndon). Modern touches abound, however: a flat-screen TV, and my favorite sighting of the day: there on the credenza, attached to a Bose Sound Dock speaker system, was the Presidential iPod: which happens to be the red and black U-2 version of the video iPod. I'm thinking housegift from Bono. We're checking on that.
The conversation around the table (that's the official photo released by the White House today, on the left) during the meal was fascinating and wide-ranging -- I'll have to carefully go over my notes before writing anything of substance. While this event each year usually generates a ton of conspiratorial media/government collusion theories, the truth is that while journalists have enjoyed private and semi-private "audiences" with Presidents since the formation of the office, journalists are very seldom able to directly quote Presidents at such gatherings -- so the rules allow for us to reflect his thinking, except for those portions of the conversation explicitly off the record, which is equally common. A portion of the conversation was devoted to a preview of tonight's speech -- we then talked to the President about foreign policy and domestic politics and even domestic life.
We'll have a significant amount of politics on the broadcast tonight: the dual Kennedy endorsements for Obama, the Clinton campaign (and the former President's controversial role), a speech preview, the French money mystery and more. We'll originate the broadcast from Capitol Hill in Washington tonight, and we'll come back on the air for our live speech coverage later in the evening, with Tim Russert by my side. Thanks for joining us as always.