Bush Rolls Out Welcome Mat For Obama

President-elect Barack Obama is back in Chicago putting together his new administration. He and his wife, Michelle, were in Washington, D.C., Monday to get a special look at what will be their home Jan. 20. The two were greeted at the White House by President Bush and first lady Laura Bush. The two men met alone in the Oval Office for about an hour.

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ARI SHAPIRO, host:

This is Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Steve Inskeep is on assignment. I'm Renee Montagne. President-elect Barack Obama walked into the Oval Office for the first time yesterday. His visit was part of the transition ritual from one president to another, but it also included a conversation on the challenges he faces. President Bush and his wife, Laura, hosted Senator Obama and his wife, Michelle, in a meeting that came earlier than usual in the handover process. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA: It looked like a meeting of old friends when the motorcade carrying President-elect Obama and his wife pulled into the driveway on the White House South Lawn. There were warm handshakes, even kisses. From the picture of the two couples posing side by side, it was hard to see what a huge shift in policy is coming once Senator Obama becomes President Obama. But the historic nature of the moment was not lost on anyone. The first ever African-American president-elect was about to make his first ever visit to the Oval Office. Neither the president nor the president-elect spoke to reporters about their meeting. White House Press Secretary Dana Perino previewed the session.

(Soundbite of White House Press Briefing)

Ms. DANA PERINO (White House Press Secretary): I don't think any of us can understand what it's like between - for two people who are now - are going to be in a very small club, who understand what it's like to be the commander in chief, to be the leader of our great country.

GONYEA: Later in a written statement, Perino said the session was, quote, "good, constructive, relaxed, and friendly." But she added that it was a private meeting and offered no specifics. Obama's spokesman, Robert Gibbs, told reporters on the flight back to Chicago that discussion included the proposed stimulus package, the travails of the auto industry, and housing foreclosures. But he offered no further specifics on policy either.

Gibbs was asked about Obama's line from his campaign stump speech describing Mr. Bush's, quote, "failed policies." Gibbs joked that he doesn't think Senator Obama tried that line out in the Oval Office. He said the campaign is over and that the White House has been extremely cooperative and gracious since the election. Towson University presidential scholar Martha Joynt Kumar says that this meeting between the incoming and outgoing presidents took place much earlier than is typical during a transition season.

Dr. MARTHA JOYNT KUMAR (Professor of Political Science, Towson University): This time it's different because of the realities of two wars and an economic crisis. That has led the White House and the government as a whole, really, to prepare for this transition in a way that they never have previously.

GONYEA: Also yesterday, Laura Bush gave Michelle Obama a tour of the living quarters of the executive mansion. Additionally, President Bush himself showed the president-elect the Lincoln Bedroom, the bedrooms the Obamas' daughters are likely to use, and the gym. Again, Martha Kumar.

Dr. KUMAR: It's a reminder that the White House is a combination of many things. It is a home. It is a museum. And in addition to that, it is the center of power in our government.

GONYEA: So it was a day to celebrate the nature of the U.S. democracy when a president of one political party and of a certain political persuasion meets with his successor, a man from the other party and of a very different political persuasion. But it was also abundantly clear that 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will feel like a very different place come January 20. Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House.

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Obama Visits White House For Meeting With Bush

The outgoing president has welcomed the incoming president to the White House.

It was the first time back in Washington for President-elect Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, since the election. Their White House visit, coming some 10 weeks before Inauguration Day, mixed hospitality with business. While first lady Laura Bush gave Michelle Obama a tour of the second-floor residence of the Executive Mansion, President Bush and Obama talked for nearly two hours.

The long motorcade, presidential in every way except for officially, entered the White House grounds at 1:46 p.m. The black limousine carrying the president-elect and his wife stopped beneath a sun-bathed Truman Balcony.

Photographers captured the moment as the Obamas stepped from the car and exchanged greetings with the president and the first lady.

There were smiles, handshakes and pats on the back — and then a turn to pose for the cameras before stepping inside.

There was no on-camera statement.

Just before the arrival, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino noted that it would be the first one-on-one meeting between the two men.

"And, obviously, there's the Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Bush meeting, which is going to talk about how they will make their life here and how they will make the house a home, and all the help that will be at their disposal in order for them to do that," Perino said.

On their way to what would also be Obama's first visit to the Oval Office, Bush and Obama walked along the White House Colonnade, which runs along the north edge of the Rose Garden.

Towson University presidential scholar Martha Joynt Kumar says it is significant that this meeting is taking place less than one week after the election.

"Usually a president meets the president-elect later in the transition period," she says. "This time it's different, and it's different because of the realities of two wars and an economic crisis."

Joynt Kumar says the Bush White House put procedures in place well before the outcome of the election was known to ensure the transition at this critical time in U.S. history would go smoothly. Congress also passed a law four years ago to make it possible for incoming teams to get security and other necessary clearances, so they can be better prepared on the first day of the new administration.

Perino was asked if there would be any awkwardness, given the strong criticisms Obama had of Bush during the campaign.

"It's always amazed me how President Bush is able to let heated rhetoric like that just slide off his back and move forward and do what he thinks is right for the country," she said. "Obviously, right now, the most important thing we can do is ensure a smooth transition to Barack Obama and his team. And that's what he's committed to doing."

And, Perino stressed, this won't be the only conversation that Bush and Obama will have.

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