Bush, successor meet privately

11:04, 11 November 2008
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For two hours, Bush showed Obama around the White House

The people have spoken. And so, on Monday, the president and president-elect did, too, The Dallas Morning News.

For two hours, George W. Bush showed Barack Obama around the White House, members 43 and 44 of the ultra-exclusive commander-in-chief club – one leaving under a cloud of public discontent, the other swept to power on a historic tide.

Behind the scenes, Obama aides were busily devising plans to scrap myriad Bush orders on stem cell research, abortion and the treatment of terrorism suspects. But for public consumption, it was all smiles.

"Productive and friendly" was the description from the Obama camp.

"Welcome," Mr. Bush said as Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle, got out of a black blast-proof limousine in the driveway near the Oval Office.

Mrs. Obama and first lady Laura Bush kissed, and the foursome posed for a photo and a wave. Mr. Obama`s smile was broader than Mr. Bush`s, but that was probably to be expected.

The leaders walked the Colonnade, providing images of a peaceful handoff beamed around the world.

They spent more than an hour without aides in the Oval Office, a room Mr. Obama had never set foot in and where, until recently, few expected to see a black president who wasn`t visiting from overseas.

Mr. Obama, the Democrat, set aside the campaign rhetoric about all the failed policies devised there in the past eight years – just as Mr. Bush, the Republican, set aside any hard feelings for the way his successor harped on his flaws on his way to victory last Tuesday.

"The election`s over. Now it`s a time for governing," said Robert Gibbs, who will serve as White House press secretary come Jan. 20.

Dana Perino, the Bush press secretary, called the meeting "good, constructive, relaxed and friendly."

"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.

`Very gracious`

For Mr. Obama, who will come to power facing two wars, a $10 trillion debt and more headaches than nearly any previous chief executive, it was a chance to learn the ropes.

For Mr. Bush, it was a chance to show magnanimity and burnish his legacy by ensuring a smooth transition.

The leaders discussed a proposed stimulus package, the travails of the auto industry and housing foreclosures, among other things. Mr. Gibbs wouldn`t go into detail.

"They talked extensively about both the economic situation as well as foreign policy," he said, adding that Mr. Obama found the president "very gracious" and his office "a very, very nice office."

Beyond the gates, onlookers strained for a glimpse. From Pennsylvania Avenue, they could see little besides the workers putting up the reviewing stand Mr. Obama will use on Inauguration Day.

"He`s going to be a lot less critical when he`s sitting behind that desk," said Wayne Goldston, 37, a school furniture salesman from San Antonio, in town for a convention. "It`s probably a very sobering experience."

Count Mr. Goldston among the 1 in 4 Americans who approves of how Mr. Bush has done his job – ratings that make him the most unpopular president ever.

"He wasn`t perfect, but he`s kept us safe," Mr. Goldston said, adding that Mr. Bush`s spending time with someone who bashed him for so long shows "he`s a really classy guy."

Friction points

The Bushes showed the Obamas around the living quarters, including the rooms where the Kennedy children lived, the Johnson girls, Chelsea Clinton and Amy Carter. Mrs. Bush and the next first lady discussed child rearing in the glare of the White House.

"She got a full view of just how beautiful and magnificent the house is, but also what a home it can be for them," Mrs. Bush`s chief of staff, Anita McBride, told MSNBC, adding they "had a wonderful time together."

By all accounts, the Bush administration has gone to unprecedented lengths to ensure a smooth transition, conferring with the incoming team on the financial rescue plan, for instance. But friction points were already in focus Monday.

Mr. Obama is reviewing a Bush order that set limits on stem cell research, and is reportedly eager to scrap an abortion "gag rule" that applies to family planning groups overseas.

Advisers also are devising ways to shut down the Guantánamo Bay prison, where about 250 suspected terrorists are held, and replace military tribunals with trials in U.S. courts. Some detainees might be released, and rules for handling sensitive information would have to be worked out.

"We`ve tried very hard to explain to people how complicated it is. When you pick up people off the battlefield that have a terrorist background, it`s not just so easy to let them go," Ms. Perino said.

Obama senior foreign policy adviser Denis McDonough said no decision has been made on Guantánamo but noted that Mr. Obama has criticized the tribunal system because it "failed to successfully and swiftly prosecute terrorists."

The Dallas Morning News

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