A new first in my career.
I have now been barred from participating in a vice president’s press briefing.
Vice President Mike Pence dropped in on this year's Sunbelt Ag Expo — well dropped in is less than accurate, roared in with two Osprey aircraft vigorously churning the air, but not as violently as the hurricane that swept through less than a week earlier. Which is why Pence was in the area. He would tour devastated agriculture sites later that afternoon.
From the speaker’s podium at the annual Sunbelt Awards Luncheon, Pence pledged full support from USDA, the Trump administration and Congress to bring southwest Georgia, southeast Alabama and the Florida Panhandle back and “better than ever.”
He praised the resilience of America’s farmers and then did some campaigning.
The aircraft hangar — Sunbelt takes place on a retired and repurposed airbase in Moultrie, Ga. — was packed on a hot, sticky south Georgia afternoon — and to assure security, the large hangar doors behind the stage were closed as the vice president made his remarks. One large oscillating fan proved inadequate to the task of dispelling the heat.
The visit was a surprise to most of the luncheon crowd and an audible intake of breath greeted Pence as he walked in and took the stage following Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue’s introduction.
A few of us in the farm media had heard rumors that Pence would be coming in, and we thought we would have an opportunity to ask questions at a press briefing following his remarks.
We were expecting to hear Secretary Perdue and were expecting to have some availability after his talk.
With the vice president came a throng of DC press folk, wielding cameras that cost more than my truck. They immediately took up all the prime spots in front of the dais (I think a podium becomes a dais when a vice president uses it) and left us to scratch and claw for photo ops.
As soon as Pence made his remarks, acknowledged the applause and shook hands with the dignitaries on stage, he headed out the back door. I and several other ag press folks followed the DC media to participate in a press briefing.
I got as far as a muscular state trooper on the left side. He said go the other way. I did, and met an equally robust trooper who said to exit the side door and go around. Did that too and met and an equally imposing Secret Service agent who stood behind a taped-off area and refused to be bothered by the likes of us.
We could see a gathering of some sort just in front of the Ospreys — what a photo op that would have been! And we watched as they loaded up and flew into the cloudless Georgia afternoon.