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The Obamas Check Out Future Home

November 11, 2008

By David Jackson and Richard Wolf

WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama met privately with President Bush at the White House on Monday, a time-honored ritual of American democracy with special resonance amid two wars and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Neither man commented publicly on their Oval Office meeting, which lasted 65 minutes. Bush then took Obama to see the family residence before returning to the Oval Office. First lady Laura Bush gave Michelle Obama a more expansive tour of the living quarters.

White House press secretary Dana Perino said Bush described the conversation as “good, constructive, relaxed and friendly.” Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said the men talked extensively about the economic situation and foreign policy. “It was a bit of a momentous day,” Gibbs said, adding that Obama said the Oval Office was “a really nice office.”

Obama transition spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said the Obamas were “warmly welcomed.”

“They had a broad discussion about the importance of working together throughout the transition of government,” Cutter said. Obama thanked Bush “for his commitment to a smooth transition,” she added.

It was Obama’s first time in the office he will occupy for at least the next four years. The Democrat arrived with his wife 11 minutes early, but the always-punctual Bushes were ready to greet them.

The two couples first went to the Diplomatic Reception Room, where the Obamas met Adm. Stephen Rochon, chief usher and director of the executive residence. Like Obama, Rochon is the first African American to hold his position in the White House.

Minutes later, Obama and Bush walked the colonnade that connects the main building to the West Wing and Oval Office. As Bush and Obama met, their wives talked in the White House living quarters “about family life, particularly about their children,” said Sally McDonough, Laura Bush’s spokeswoman.

The Obamas have two daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7. Michelle Obama spent part of Monday visiting schools, including Georgetown Day School and Sidwell Friends School.

In the days leading up to the visit, Obama and his aides have urged the Bush administration to back a new spending package in Congress that’s designed to stimulate the economy. Gibbs said the president and president-elect discussed on Monday the proposed stimulus package, the U.S. auto industry and foreclosures.

Obama flew in for the meeting from his home in Chicago, where he will spend most of his time during the transition. Obama’s mantra has been “we only have one president at a time.” He does not plan to attend this weekend’s international economic summit in Washington, where Bush will host leaders from 20 nations.

Obama is putting together his economic and national security teams. Cutter said she does not expect any Cabinet announcements this week.

Bush has made clear he wants a seamless transition, given the hazardous condition of the economy and the threat of terrorism.

Presidential analysts said both men want to avoid the problems that beset the transition during the Great Depression. President-elect Franklin Roosevelt stayed as far as he could from incumbent Herbert Hoover, and “it contributed to the worsening of the economy,” said David Abshire, president of the Center for the Study of the Presidency.

This time Bush and Obama “have a keen need to try to restore some kind of trust in the economy,” Abshire said.

Stephen Hess, a Brookings Institution scholar and author of a new book on presidential transitions, said both Obama and Bush are striking the right tone.

Obama criticized Bush’s performance during his campaign, attacking the Republican incumbent on issues from the economy to Iraq. Hess said he doubts there is much tension between them now: “These are two politicians.”

Contributing: Kathy Kiely

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