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Obama to Get His First Look at the Oval Office

Bush invited Obama for...

President-elect Barack Obama sets foot in the Oval Office for the first time Monday when he meets President George W. Bush to discuss the transition of power at a time when the country is mired in a deep economic slump and fighting two wars overseas, according to AP via FOXNews.

Bush invited Obama for the private sit-down talk, a rite of passage between presidents and successors that extends for decades.

The moment is sure to be steeped in history, as the country`s first black president prepares to take office on Jan. 20 with Democrats firmly in control of the White House and both houses of Congress.

Bush and Obama are expected to review the nation`s enormous economic downturn and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I`m going to go in there with a spirit of bipartisanship, and a sense that both the president and various leaders of Congress all recognize the severity of the situation right now and want to get stuff done," Obama said last week when asked about his meeting with Bush.

Obama won the presidency in an electoral landslide on Tuesday. He ran a campaign in which he relentlessly linked Republican opponent John McCain to Bush and presented his ideas as a fresh alternative to what he called Bush`s failed policies.

Yet the tone changed almost immediately after Obama`s win.

Bush, who had endorsed McCain, lauded Obama`s victory as a "triumph of the American story." He warmly invited the Obama family to the White House.

Obama, in turn, thanked Bush for being gracious. The president-elect has made clear to the people of the United States and those watching around the world that there is only one president for now, and that`s Bush.

Josh Bolten, Bush`s chief of staff, said Bush and Obama will be the only ones in the room when they meet.

"I`m sure each of them will have a list of issues to go down," Bolten said, interviewed on C-SPAN by 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."

Obama and wife, Michelle, are set to arrive at the White House on Monday afternoon. Bush and first lady Laura Bush will greet them.

In a bit of pageantry for the cameras, the president and president-elect are to walk along the Colonnade and into the Oval Office.

Mrs. Bush and Mrs. Obama will meet privately, too.

Unlike the incoming president, Bush knew his way around the Oval Office by the time he was elected in 2000 -- his father had been president. Still, like many before them, President Bill Clinton and President-elect Bush had their own private meeting, keeping up a tradition that temporarily puts the presidency above politics.

Obama has been to the White House before, including an emergency leadership session to deal with the financial crisis in September.

But an Obama spokeswoman said the president-elect has never been in the Oval Office.

Once he sits behind the desk, the 44th president is expected to use his executive powers to reverse Bush administration policies on stem cell research, oil exploration and other issues.

John Podesta, who`s handling Obama`s preparations to take over in the White House on Jan. 20, said on Sunday that Obama was reviewing Bush`s executive orders on those and other issues as he prepares to put his own stamp on policy after eight years of Republican rule.

"There`s a lot that the president can do using his executive authority without waiting for congressional action, and I think we`ll see the president do that," Podesta said. "I think that he feels like he has a real mandate for change. We need to get off the course that the Bush administration has set."

Use of executive authority is the quickest way for a new president to exert his power, given that passage of new laws by Congress can be a painfully slow process, even when the chief executive enjoys a legislative majority.

Podesta pointed specifically to two particularly controversial Bush executive orders as candidates for reversal.

"I think across the board, on stem cell research, on a number of areas, you see the Bush administration even today moving aggressively to do things that I think are probably not in the interest of the country," Podesta said.

Obama has supported stem cell research in an effort to find cures for diseases such as Alzheimer`s.

Also, the federal Bureau of Land Management is opening about 360,000 acres of public land in Utah to oil and gas drilling, leading to protests from environmentalists.

"They want to have oil and gas drilling in some of the most sensitive, fragile lands in Utah," Podesta said. "I think that`s a mistake."

Speaking on FOX television, Podesta said Obama was working to build a diverse Cabinet likely to include Republicans and independents -- part of the broad coalition that supported Obama during the race against McCain.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been mentioned as a possible holdover.

"He`s not even a Republican," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said on CNN. "Why wouldn`t we want to keep him? He`s never been a registered Republican."

In other transition matters, Obama`s new chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, would not say whether Obama would return to the Senate for votes during the postelection session this month.

Obama`s presence would be extraordinary, given his position as president-elect, especially if Congress takes up a much-anticipated economic stimulus plan.

"I think that the basic approach has been he`s going to be ... in Chicago, setting up his economic, not only his economic team, but the policies he wants to outline for the country as soon as he gets sworn in, so we hit the ground running," Emanuel said.

During a coming lame-duck session, Congress will take up a second economic stimulus package in hopes of stopping the country`s downward economic skid.

Obama said at his first postelection news conference on Friday that his priority on taking office was such a package that he would work to push through if Congress fails to pass the legislation or if should Bush veto it.

Emanuel would not commit to a Democratic proposal to help the failing American auto industry with some of the $700 billion approved last month by Congress to help the financial sector.

Valerie Jarrett, co-chair of the Obama transition team, told NBC television that Michelle Obama, the next first lady, would first focus on settling her daughters into their new life at the White House.

Then, Jarrett said, the next first lady wanted to help women juggling a career and motherhood, assist military spouses and promote volunteerism.

Meanwhile, Obama`s name was invoked at church services nationwide on Sunday, but he didn`t attend any of them. He went to the gym instead.

Obama does not have a church in Chicago since he severed ties in April with his longtime pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. His decision on which church to attend when he moves to Washington will undoubtedly be closely watched.

When he left Trinity United Church of Christ in May, Obama said his family would look for a new congregation. Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Sunday that the president-elect had not yet picked a church.

 

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