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Bush Rolls Out Welcome Mat For Obama

ARI SHAPIRO, host:

This is Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Steve Inskeep is on assignment. I'm Renee Montagne. President-elect Barack Obama walked into the Oval Office for the first time yesterday. His visit was part of the transition ritual from one president to another, but it also included a conversation on the challenges he faces. President Bush and his wife, Laura, hosted Senator Obama and his wife, Michelle, in a meeting that came earlier than usual in the handover process. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA: It looked like a meeting of old friends when the motorcade carrying President-elect Obama and his wife pulled into the driveway on the White House South Lawn. There were warm handshakes, even kisses. From the picture of the two couples posing side by side, it was hard to see what a huge shift in policy is coming once Senator Obama becomes President Obama. But the historic nature of the moment was not lost on anyone. The first ever African-American president-elect was about to make his first ever visit to the Oval Office. Neither the president nor the president-elect spoke to reporters about their meeting. White House Press Secretary Dana Perino previewed the session.

(Soundbite of White House Press Briefing)

Ms. DANA PERINO (White House Press Secretary): I don't think any of us can understand what it's like between - for two people who are now - are going to be in a very small club, who understand what it's like to be the commander in chief, to be the leader of our great country.

GONYEA: Later in a written statement, Perino said the session was, quote, "good, constructive, relaxed, and friendly." But she added that it was a private meeting and offered no specifics. Obama's spokesman, Robert Gibbs, told reporters on the flight back to Chicago that discussion included the proposed stimulus package, the travails of the auto industry, and housing foreclosures. But he offered no further specifics on policy either.

Gibbs was asked about Obama's line from his campaign stump speech describing Mr. Bush's, quote, "failed policies." Gibbs joked that he doesn't think Senator Obama tried that line out in the Oval Office. He said the campaign is over and that the White House has been extremely cooperative and gracious since the election. Towson University presidential scholar Martha Joynt Kumar says that this meeting between the incoming and outgoing presidents took place much earlier than is typical during a transition season.

Dr. MARTHA JOYNT KUMAR (Professor of Political Science, Towson University): This time it's different because of the realities of two wars and an economic crisis. That has led the White House and the government as a whole, really, to prepare for this transition in a way that they never have previously.

GONYEA: Also yesterday, Laura Bush gave Michelle Obama a tour of the living quarters of the executive mansion. Additionally, President Bush himself showed the president-elect the Lincoln Bedroom, the bedrooms the Obamas' daughters are likely to use, and the gym. Again, Martha Kumar.

Dr. KUMAR: It's a reminder that the White House is a combination of many things. It is a home. It is a museum. And in addition to that, it is the center of power in our government.

GONYEA: So it was a day to celebrate the nature of the U.S. democracy when a president of one political party and of a certain political persuasion meets with his successor, a man from the other party and of a very different political persuasion. But it was also abundantly clear that 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will feel like a very different place come January 20. Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.