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Inside, the White House press pool had grown to a sea more than an hour before the call to the Oval Office. More than 30 photographers clogged the entrance to the lower press office, jockeying to be among the first in. The White House had planned for the quintet to stroll down the colonnade — where presidents are often photographed with world leaders — and stop by a press corps packed into the Rose Garden to make a few comments. But the relentless downpour forced the event indoors, and rather than parade the principals into the roomy East Room, the Oval Office was chosen.

In a rare move, the White House trotted the press into the office in three waves, two batches of photographers and one gaggle of writers and a TV crew. More glitches. When the first pack of shutterbugs raced in, the big “scoop” lights were off. Photographers scrambled to reset their cameras, but just as they had, the lights went on.

“I’m trying to salvage something, but c’mon, you’d think these guys would have their act together after eight years,” one frustrated photographer said.

The second batch went in for exactly eight seconds, according to The Washington Times’ photographer, who was the second or third shooter through the door.

Throughout the photo sessions, the four presidents and the president-elect made small talk. Standing in front of the Resolute desk, which was used by all the presidents present, including President Clinton (who came up with some new uses for the desk made from timbers of the HMS Resolute), the POTUSes paired off — George H.W. Bush chatted with Mr. Obama, the current president with his predecessor.

Alone on the edge was Jimmy Carter, who in some pictures was seen looking off to a wall as his colleagues talked. (The White House later said the five “had a wide-ranging discussion on many different issues facing the United States” during their lunch, but one media wag joked that Mr. Carter had come to deliver a message from Hamas, a Palestinian terrorist group the 39th president met with last year.)

Before being rushed out after the pool spray, CBS News reporter Bill Plante yelled a question to Mr. Obama: “What can you learn from their mistakes?” With a broad smile, the president-elect said: “From their successes!”

But as always, the president impeached after his sexual dalliance with an intern half his age had the best line of the day.

When most of the cameras had been turned off, Mr. Clinton was caught looking at Mr. Bush, then the floor, then Mr. Bush again. Very somberly, in his broken way, he said: “I … love … this … rug.”

• Joe Curl can be contacted at jcurl@washington