Obama’s visit to White House begins presidential transition

Eric Draper, The Assocaited Press

AP

Eric Draper, The Assocaited Press

By Jennifer Loven

WASHINGTON – All smiles and compliments, President-elect Obama and his wife, Michelle, called on President Bush and first lady Laura Bush Monday in a White House visit that was part political ritual, part practical introduction and a striking symbol of the historic transfer of power to come.

The president and Obama talked war and financial crisis. Laura Bush and Michelle Obama talked about raising daughters in the nation’s most famous house.

Then Obama flew back to Chicago to work on setting up the new administration that will take over on Jan. 20.

Mrs. Obama went out hunting for a new school for the kids, visiting two of the capital city’s best-known private schools.

If first impressions matter, Obama and his wife displayed one similarity to the super-punctual Bushes, pulling up to the White House’s South Portico 11 minutes early. The couples traded warm and easy greetings in the crisp autumn sunshine, with the wives exchanging pleasantries about the fall hues each wore – Mrs. Bush in a brown dress and Mrs. Obama in a red one.

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While Obama and Bush, in business suits, proceeded waving and smiling down the White House Colonnade for nearly two hours of private talks, Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Bush had their own agenda: talk of raising children in most unusual circumstances. Mrs. Bush conducted a tour of the living quarters of the historic mansion and made introductions to the army of residence staff.

Michelle Obama had toured the White House before with daughters Malia, who is 10, and Sasha, who is 7. But the two women had never met.

The 43rd president and the man who will be the 44th – and first black – commander in chief met alone in the Oval Office, with no handlers or staff. It was Obama’s first time in the storied workspace, even though he had been to the White House previously for events.

Neither the Bushes nor the Obamas spoke to reporters, and details about their meetings were few.

Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said the two men “talked extensively” about the economic situation and foreign policy.

“Obviously the topics that came up are what you’ve seen and heard about in the news recently and about what a number of transition officials spoke about on the Sunday (TV talk) shows,” he said.

Topics included “the need to get the economy back on track,” Gibbs said, and “what’s going on in the auto industry.” The discussion on the auto industry wasn’t limited to the nation’s three largest car makers, he said. “It was a discussion about the broad health of the industry, and they also spoke about the housing industry and foreclosures.”

As for Obama’s first glimpse of the Oval Office: “He said it was a very, very nice office,” Gibbs said.

White House press secretary Dana Perino said that Bush described the meeting as “constructive, relaxed and friendly,” covering problems at home and abroad, and that he personally pledged a smooth transition. Bush gave Obama a sneak peek at White House highlights, such as the Lincoln Bedroom and the president’s office in the residence, after their hour-plus in the Oval Office.

Associated Press writers Nedra Pickler, Liz Sidoti and Deb Riechmann contributed to this story.