Looks like Barack Obama is looking to use the opportunity to pick George Bush’s mind, somehow George Bush looks a little vulnerable!
WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, received a warm welcome at the White House shortly before 2 p.m. Eastern time by the current occupant, President George W. Bush, a man with whom he expressed a sea of differences during the just-ended election campaign. When the president and Mrs. Bush greeted the Obamas at the driveway on the South Lawn, the women hugged and their husbands shook hands, with Mr. Obama using the two-handed greeting common among senators, with his left hand on Mr. Bush’s right arm during the handshake. The two men were dressed almost identically in dark blue suits, white shirts and blue ties. Ms. Bush wore a brown suit, and Ms. Obama a burnt-orange dress.
A few minutes after the couples entered the White House together, Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama reemerged and strolled along the colonnade past the Rose Garden to the outer entrance to the Oval Office. Mr. Obama walked just at Mr. Bush’s shoulder and appeared to be speaking animatedly, gesturing with both hands. Each of the men waved several times to reporters and others off camera.
While Ms. Bush showed Ms. Obama the White House, their husbands met for just over an hour in the Oval Office, discussing the transfer of power from Mr. Bush’s conservative Republican administration to a presumably much more liberal Democratic leadership.
Mr. Obama saw the Oval Office in person for the first time, just 10 weeks before he will make history by returning as its first black occupant. A physical reminder of the coming change was provided by construction equipment gathered in Lafayette Park across Pennsylvania Avenue from the north side of the White House. The equipment is soon to be put to work building glass-fronted, heated viewing stands where the Obama team will view the inaugural parade on Jan. 20.
As the capital swirled with talk of an expanded bailout package for the troubled American International Group, of unemployment figures that continue to swell, of deep trouble in the auto industry and the urgent financial summit to be convened later this week by Mr. Bush, some of the more pressing issues awaiting discussion by the two leaders on Monday afternoon seemed clear. Similarly, two wars — on which the president and president-elect differ considerably — will demand careful and delicate coordination. As the Obamas were arriving at the White House, several hundred protesters on Pennsylvania Avenue chanted “No More Wars” as they waved signs condemning President Bush and Vice President Cheney.
Mr. Obama, who does not plan to attend the financial summit, has said he expected a “substantive conversation” with Mr. Bush on Monday. Such first meetings are governed by no rules but are deeply immersed in tradition. Neither man was expected to issue any extended statement after the meeting, which is taking place unusually early in the transition period.
Josh Bolten, the president’s chief of staff, said on Monday morning that the president and president-elect will be alone in the Oval Office when they meet, without aides present.
“I’m sure each of them will have a list of issues to go down,” Mr. Bolten said during a televised interview with reporters from The Associated Press and The Washington Post. “But I think that’s something very personal to both of them. I know the president will want to convey to President-elect Obama his sense of how to deal with some of the most important issues of the day. But exactly how he does that, I don’t know, and I don’t think anybody will know.”
Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama have had relatively little personal contact before now, and by some accounts, when they have met, there has been some awkwardness.
Mr. Bush told a friend during the 2008 Democratic primary race that he thought Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York was “more experienced and more ready to be president.” But the same friend, speaking anonymously to disclose his private conversation with the president, called Mr. Bush “a realist” who was ready to move on in the nation’s interest; Mr. Bush’s postelection comments have so far been gracious and have emphasized a cooperative approach.
For his part, Mr. Obama and his aides have missed no opportunity to remind Americans that they have only one president at a time.
Even so, Mr. Obama and his team are moving expeditiously to plan the transition and a post-Inauguration agenda that aides said would probably include the quick reversal of some Bush policies, such as his restrictions on stem-cell research and on oil and gas drilling.
One thing is certain: The body language between the Obamas and the Bushes will be widely scrutinized and assessed, to see whether they appear to be comfortable working together or, as was the case with some past transition meetings, are straining just to appear polite.
Mr. Obama flew to Washington Monday morning from O’Hare International Airport in Chicago aboard a chartered American Airlines Boeing Super-80 jetliner. A spokeswoman for Ms. Obama said she flew to Washington separately.
Having had a chance to size up their new accommodations, and those who have occupied them for eight years, the Obamas are scheduled to return immediately afterward to Chicago, where the work of transition will continue.
A spokeswoman for the transition team, Stephanie Cutter, told Reuters today in Chicago that Mr. Obama would announce no Cabinet nominees this week.