WASHINGTON (AP) - The first family settled into their new lives
in the White House on Thursday as President Barack Obama won an
important personal victory: He gets to keep his BlackBerry.
Obama will be the first sitting president to use e-mail, and he
has been reluctant to part with his ever-present handheld device.
Its use will be limited to keeping in touch with senior staff and
personal friends, said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.
"I've won the fight, but I don't think it's up and running,"
Obama said as he walked through the White House briefing room
Thursday evening to meet reporters.
And though Gibbs said Obama had to ask at one point where to go
next in his "pretty big house," he also said the president was
enjoying living above the store and had time for dinner with the
family on Wednesday.
"I think that obviously means a lot to him as a father," Gibbs
It was back to business for daughters Sasha and Malia, too, who
returned to classes at the private Sidwell Friends School on
The girls were allowed to play hooky Wednesday after a
late-night scavenger hunt at the White House that ended when they
opened a door and found their favorite band, the Jonas Brothers.
But two days of frivolity was, apparently, enough. Michelle
Obama had no public schedule for the rest of the week as she helped
the girls make themselves at home, said Mrs. Obama's spokeswoman,
Katie McCormick Lelyveld.
"Her primary focus this week is getting the kids settled. She
is focused entirely on getting unpacked and getting the kids up and
running," McCormick Lelyveld said.
Both girls were excited to get their rooms set up, McCormick
Lelyveld said. Mrs. Obama has worked hard throughout the transition
to maintain a strong routine for Sasha, 7, and Malia, 10.
"I know the family's moved now three times in only a few weeks.
But if you know them and you know their family, they've had a
routine for a long time," Gibbs said. "This is a monumental
testament to Michelle."
The monumental testament to her husband? He won the BlackBerry
Gibbs joked that the development was "almost as exciting as the
presidential dog." He poked fun at the White House press corps for
stirring at the news during his briefing. "Let's make sure the pen
But the BlackBerry victory is a big concession. Obama said
earlier that he was working with the Secret Service, lawyers and
White House staff to keep the device.
Gibbs said the president will limit its use, and security has
been enhanced to ensure that Obama can communicate in a way that's
protected. Only a small number of senior staff members and personal
friends would be given his e-mail address.
Previous presidents chose not to use e-mail because it can be
subpoenaed by Congress and courts and may be subject to public
records laws. And Gibbs said the presumption from the White House
counsel's office is that Obama's e-mails will be subject to the
Presidential Records Act, which requires the National Archives to
preserve presidential records.
But he also said there are exceptions for "strictly personal
Obama has often been seen checking his e-mail on his handheld
device, even when it meant getting his hands slapped by Michelle
during his daughter's soccer game.
Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton didn't e-mail while
in office, although Bush was an active e-mailer before becoming
That was before the era of the BlackBerry, a device now
ubiquitous in Washington and precious to Obama. When asked by The
Associated Press about his worst habit during the campaign, Obama
responded, "Checking my BlackBerry."
Gibbs said the president believes that using the device is an
effective way to keep in touch with people without "getting stuck
in a bubble."
He said Obama's e-mails to him personally have ranged "from
something that's very strictly business to, why did my football
team perform so miserably on either any given Saturday or any given
Those who have access to the president's e-mail will be briefed
about appropriate communications, Gibbs said, without offering
So the president who gave up smoking - mostly - managed to avoid
withdrawal from his other addiction - mostly.
All in all, Gibbs said, Obama looked comfortable in his new
"They're very much the same four people that I met five years
ago when I went to work for them," he said, before conceding,
"Obviously, it's a little different."
Associated Press writer Philip Elliott contributed to this
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)