WASHINGTON (CNN) – When the waiter reached for the plate, President Obama shook his head and smiled as he asked for a few more minutes. He had been talking to his guests, and had barely taken a bite of his lunch.
The new president was keeping with a longstanding tradition on days when the commander in chief delivers an address to a joint session of Congress: Around the table Tuesday sat television anchors and the Sunday morning interview program hosts and two senior aides. The location was the dining room in the White House residence.
Over lunch of lobster bisque and striped bass, it was a chance for the president to share his thoughts on the goals of Tuesday night's big speech and the challenges ahead. There were ground rules for the discussion: We are not allowed to quote the president or his senior aides directly.
In Washington journalism parlance, this is called "background" - what we heard was attributable to "senior administration officials." Or, the ground rules allow such constructions as, "The president is known to believe ..." or "The way the White House sees this is ..."
Some things we learned were policy-related, some more personal. Some highlights: