- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 13, 2009

UPDATED:

Top officials from the incoming Obama administration are at the White House for several hours Tuesday, spending time with their counterparts in the Bush administration to discuss and then simulate how to handle a terrorist attack inside the U.S.

President Bush won’t take part in the exercises, but nearly every other senior White House official and several current Cabinet officers will.

Mr. Bush has a busy day himself. He is holding his last Cabinet meeting and meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderon in the morning, and in the afternoon will have lunch with conservative radio star Rush Limbaugh, award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to three foreign leaders, and hold a wide-ranging private conversation with historians.

Rahm Emanuel, Mr. Obama’s incoming chief of staff, spoke to reporters with Mr. Bush’s chief of staff, Josh Bolten, outside the White House before beginning the several hours of security briefings and exercises.

Mr. Emanuel, who has launched no small amount of criticism toward Mr. Bush over the last several years while a Democratic leader in the House, lauded the entire Bush administration for their efforts to facilitate a smooth handoff of power.

“I cannot thank President Bush as well Josh enough for their efforts in making sure that this transition is seamless in basically, the handoff to President-elect Obama’s administration,” Mr. Emanuel said.

“This is a very, very important meeting,” he said. “You have to go through this exercise, understand the responsibilities and what happens.”

Mr. Bolten said that the day would start off with briefings for the key members of Mr. Obama’s incoming cabinet and senior White House staff.

“And then later this morning, that group will be joined by their counterparts in the current administration - key members of the Cabinet and White House senior staff - for an actual homeland security exercise,” Mr. Bolten said.

“We’re going to work on a specific scenario. We may get to more than one. And talk about who does what, under what authorities, and with that coordination in the event of a homeland security incident,” he said.

Mr. Bolten said that the exercises were part of what he said is “the smoothest and most effective transition in the history of the presidency.”

“We’ve certified nearly a thousand members of the Obama transition team for access to information and briefings at nearly a hundred agencies around the government, and we’ve expedited clearances for key members of the national security team so that they’re in a position to hit the ground running,” he said.

Mr. Bolten has also chaired a series of transition council meetings inside the White House that began in the fall.

Mr. Emanuel agreed with Mr. Bolten’s assessment.

“This is just one example of what has been a, I think, an unprecedented integration of transition,” he said.

Mr. Bush’s meeting with historians, meanwhile, is one in a series of such meetings that the president has held over the last few years.

“Most have written books that the President has read, and he invited them to have what will likely be a wide ranging discussion,” said White House spokesman Carlton Carroll.

At the medal of freedom ceremony, Mr. Bush will award the nation’s “highest civil award” to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and former Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

Mr. Blair and Mr. Howard were Mr. Bush’s most stalwart allies as he sought to respond vigorously to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and continued to support Mr. Bush during the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Mr. Uribe, meanwhile, is the strongest U.S. ally in South America, and has sought to build stronger trade ties in the face of opposition from Democrats in the Congress and in the midst of growing anti-U.S. and pro-collectivist sentiment on the continent.

“The President is honoring these leaders for their work to improve the lives of their citizens and for their efforts to promote democracy, human rights and peace abroad,” said White House press secretary Dana Perino at a recent briefing.

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