WASHINGTON -- President-elect Barack Obama sized up the Oval Office on Monday and pronounced it "pretty nice" after touring the White House with wife Michelle on a cordial visit hosted by President Bush and wife Laura.
After winning an election where Obama daily blistered the Bush administration, all scorching rhetoric was forgotten as the Bushes greeted the Obamas at the South Portico, and the couples posed for cameras with 43 and 44 separated by their wives. They then moved on to the Diplomatic Reception room, where the Obamas were introduced to Coast Guard Adm. Stephen Rochon, the director of the Executive Residence and the chief usher.
Michelle then headed with Laura Bush to the East Wing -- the domain of the first lady -- while the Illinois senator who will be inaugurated Jan. 20 headed to the West Wing with Bush, strolling down the colonnade toward the Oval Office in another choreographed photo op.
Bush and Obama met privately for about an hour with no staffers or note-takers, Obama adviser Robert Gibbs said. Gibbs said the men talked about the proposed stimulus package, the troubled auto industry and housing foreclosures -- all giant messes Obama is inheriting. Obama thought the Oval Office was "a pretty nice office."
Laura Bush showed Michelle Obama around the private residence -- think of it as a grand apartment -- at the White House, where the Obamas and daughters Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, will actually live.
The women chatted in the West Sitting Hall "where they discussed raising daughters in the White House, as Jenna and Barbara Bush were similar in age to Malia and Sasha Obama when they visited their grandfather, President George H. W. Bush, during his presidency," Obama transition spokesman Stephanie Cutter said in a statement.
After Bush and Obama's initial meeting, they joined their wives to check out the living quarters, the famous Lincoln Bedroom, office space, the Obama girls' potential bedrooms and the gym. After that, Bush and Obama headed back to the Oval for more talk and Michelle met with Rochon -- who will oversee the Obama move-in -- in the Map Room.
While the current and next president were in a historic meeting, crowds materialized on Pennsylvania Avenue. Construction is already under way for the reviewing stand for the inauguration, 70 days away.
As part of the handoff, Gibbs, who may soon preside over the Obama White House briefing podium, huddled for about 40 minutes with White House press secretary Dana Perino in her West Wing office. And Obama transition co-chief John Podesta, a former Clinton administration chief of staff, met with Bush Chief of Staff Josh Bolten.
The White House visit was a day trip for Obama; he was overheard on his plane ride back to Chicago, according to the pool report, telling someone that he expects to be spending most of his time in Chicago until the inauguration.
Obama today will participate in a Veterans Day observance in Chicago, probably with State of Illinois Veterans Affairs chief Tammy Duckworth. No Cabinet selections are set to be announced this week, though some White House staff appointments may be made. Obama may travel to Hawaii around Christmastime. His grandmother's memorial service -- Madelyn Dunham died last Sunday -- has yet to be scheduled.
Gibbs was asked about Obama's constant condemnation of of Bush's "failed policies" during the campaign in light of the visit. Said Gibbs, smiling, "I don't think he tried that line out again to see how it would work."