- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Six days after his election to the highest office in the land, President-elect Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, on Monday toured the national treasure that will soon be their home, visiting President Bush and first lady Laura Bush at the White House.

Mr. Obama met with Mr. Bush in the Oval Office for more than an hour - afterward pronouncing it “a very, very nice office” - while Mrs. Bush gave Mrs. Obama a tour of the White House residence. The Obamas stayed for exactly two hours.

It was a day of photo-ops and images. No public words were spoken by either the sitting president or his successor in waiting, or their spouses.

But an Obama spokesman said it was “a bit of a momentous day.” And such was the anticipation surrounding Mr. Obama’s coming that a few hundred spectators spontaneously gathered outside the gates of the White House, and an overflow press contingent packed into the press area inside the West Wing.

At 1:46 p.m., Mr. and Mrs. Obama arrived at the White House in a darkly tinted limousine similar to the one used to carry sitting presidents, in a motorcade virtually identical in size to that of one used to transport Mr. Bush.

Mr. and Mrs. Bush stood on the walkway outside the South Portico in the afternoon sun, waiting to greet the Obamas. Mr. Obama, wearing a dark blue suit and blue tie, and Mrs. Obama, sporting a striking red dress, emerged and greeted the president and first lady.

The men shook hands, and the women hugged. Mr. Bush, wearing a grayish-blue suit and blue tie, and Mrs. Bush, in a rust-colored dress, posed for pictures with Mr. and Mrs. Obama - who in her red heels stood taller than her husband and either of the Bush’s - before turning to walk inside.

After a brief greeting and conversation among the two couples, the Republican president and Democratic president-elect strolled down the Colonnade along the Rose Garden outside the West Wing, toward the Oval Office for a private meeting.

As the two men walked down the Colonnade, Mr. Obama talked and gestured to the sitting president. As they reached the door to the Oval Office, Mr. Bush pulled it open and ushered in the president-elect.

Despite their party differences, the two men “are now going to be in a very small club,” said White House press secretary Dana Perino.

It was another pinnacle moment in a week of big moments for Mr. Obama, who was elected the nation’s first black president last Tuesday and held his first press conference as president-elect on Friday.

While the two leaders met, Mrs. Bush took Mrs. Obama on a tour of the White House residence, and the president’s chief of staff, Joshua B. Bolten, met separately with John Podesta, a former Clinton chief of staff who is overseeing Mr. Obama’s transition team.

Mrs. Perino also met with her likely counterpart in the next administration, Robert Gibbs.

The Obamas’ two daughters - Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7 - did not accompany their parents, but Mrs. Bush showed Mrs. Obama the bedrooms that have been used in the past by presidents’ children.

Chelsea Clinton was the last young child in the White House. She was 12 in 1993 when President Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived in Washington.

During the meeting in the Oval Office, Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama discussed the economic crisis and foreign policy.

Neither the White House nor the Obama transition team would comment specifically on what was said, but Mr. Gibbs reported back on his conversation with Mr. Obama.

“The first thing that the president-elect said to me afterward was he found the president to be extremely gracious with his time and with his invitation today,” Mr. Gibbs said. “They talked extensively about both the economic situation as well as foreign policy.”

Mr. Gibbs also praised Mr. Bush and his administration for their eagerness to work cooperatively with the Obama transition team on a smooth handover, noting that the president-elect’s people have received “nothing but cooperation and graciousness on the part of the administration.”

Mr. Bush characterized the meeting as “good, constructive, relaxed and friendly,” Mrs. Perino said.

Mrs. Bush talked to Mrs. Obama about “raising a family in the White House and the support of the executive residence staff, which has been really unbelievable for the president and Mrs. Bush,” Mrs. Perino said.

And the first couple introduced the Obamas to the man who will serve as their chief usher, Rear Adm. Stephen W. Rochon, the director of the executive residence.

Mr. and Mrs. Obama left the White House separately. Mrs. Obama was scheduled to scout out possible schools for her two daughters - Georgetown Day, Maret and Sidwell Friends have been rumored to be high on the list - while Mr. Obama headed back to Chicago.

At Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, however, Mr. Obama had an unscheduled hourlong meeting, but Obama staff would not say whom he was meeting with, leading to speculation that it was with a possible Cabinet secretary.

Outside the White House, hundreds stood against the black metal fence bordering the North Lawn, on Pennsylvania Avenue, hoping for a glimpse of their newly elected president.

The crowd included some protesters with large banners reading “Arrest Bush for war crimes,” and “Arrest Cheney first,” referring to the vice president.

Overall the crowd was quiet and curious. Several people said they hoped to see Mr. Obama, unaware that he came and left by the South Lawn entrance, and was not visible to the public at any time.

Wallace Simmons, a retired postman from Birmingham, Ala., watched quietly, with hands in his jean pockets.

Mr. Simmons, 61, said he had participated in the 1963 civil rights marches led by Martin Luther King and that he had not expected to see a black president in his lifetime.

“I’m just glad to be a part of history,” he said.


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