Bush, Obama Meet At White House
President George W. Bush met with President-elect Barack Obama behind closed doors for nearly two hours at the White House on Monday, in a symbolic passing-of-the-torch discussion.
Neither spoke to reporters after their first face-to-face meeting in the Oval Office.
Obama got to work a little early, arriving 11 minutes before the scheduled time. He and his wife, Michelle, emerged from their car and greeted the President and first lady Laura Bush. Bush and Obama then walked along the Colonnade, as planned, before going inside.
Though Obama has been invited to the White House before — including for an emergency financial-crisis summit with Bush and Republican presidential nominee John McCain in September — this marked the first time Obama has ever been in the Oval Office, a spokesperson says.
Michelle Obama met separately with first lady Laura Bush, who provided a tour of the White House living quarters.
President Bush walked Obama to his limousine after their encounter.
Obama, who won a resounding victory on Nov. 4, said in a news conference last week that he planned to visit Bush "with a spirit of bipartisanship, and a sense that both the president and various leaders of Congress all recognize the severity of the situation right now and want to get stuff done."
He also said he expected to have a substantive conversation with the outgoing president.
There is much to talk about, including the country's precarious economy and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the conversation had the potential for tension: Obama has been quite outspoken in his criticism of the Bush administration's policies.
John Podesta, who will oversee the Obama transition, suggested to Fox News on Sunday that Obama may use his executive powers as soon as he is sworn in on Jan. 20, 2009, to reverse controversial Bush policies on issues such as stem-cell research and oil and gas drilling.
The White House "is a very weird thing to walk into," Bush's chief of staff, Josh Bolten, told reporters on Sunday. "There are no papers, no books. You have computer equipment but there's nothing on there. You've got a telephone but you just sort of barely know what everybody else's phone number is."
Former Bush Chief of Staff Andrew Card told NBC that President Bush "has given a very clear signal to everyone who works in the executive branch of government. This is going to be an orderly transition. It'll be the most successful in history."
Traditionally, these rite-of-passage meetings mix small talk with serious policy considerations.
Joan Hoff, a presidential historian at Montana State University, says that following Herbert Hoover's defeat in 1932, the outgoing president tried to use a pre-inauguration meeting to get incoming President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt to commit to certain economic ideas about how to handle the Great Depression.
Roosevelt eventually used some of Hoover's ideas but never gave the former president credit, Hoff says. In the early days of his administration, Roosevelt surrounded himself with a "brain trust" to develop other new ideas to create the New Deal.
Hoff, a former executive director of the Center for the Study of the Presidency, said that the meeting between Bush and Obama would "be cordial, but essentially nonproductive."
In 1992, President–elect Bill Clinton spent about almost two hours in the Oval Office with outgoing President George H.W. Bush. (Once they were both out of office, the two men eventually became friends.) Clinton told reporters later that Bush was very candid and offered the new president a lot of insights. During his post-election visit to Washington, Clinton also took a tour of struggling African-American-owned businesses in Northwest Washington.
Bush and Clinton discussed international matters, including troublesome situations around the world, and domestic issues such as Medicaid. Meanwhile, aides from both administrations convened across the hall — in the Roosevelt Room — to discuss the transition.
Eight years later, Clinton again met with a Bush — this time, President-elect George W. Bush — to symbolically hand off the baton of power. The younger Bush appeared to reporters to be ill at ease. He twirled his thumbs as the men spoke. Again the meeting lasted about two hours. It started in the Oval Office and then moved to the family dining room, where the men ate steak, salad and squash soup. They spoke of global hot spots, such as the Middle East and North Korea.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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