WASHINGTON – Barack Obama has never set foot in the Oval Office. Talk about making an entrance. In a sit-down discussion Monday with President Bush, the president-elect will get his first feel for the place where momentous decisions will soon fall to him.
Bush invited Obama for the private talk, a rite of passage between presidents and successors that extends for decades.
The moment is sure to be steeped in history, part of a symbolic changing of a guard to Democratic leadership and the country's first black president. But it will be substantive as well, as Bush and Obama are expected to review the nation's enormous economic downturn and the war in Iraq.
"I'm going to go in there with a spirit of bipartisanship, and a sense that both the president and various leaders of Congress all recognize the severity of the situation right now and want to get stuff done," Obama said last week when asked about his meeting with Bush.
Obama won the presidency in an electoral landslide on Tuesday. He ran a campaign in which he relentlessly linked Republican opponent John McCain to Bush and presented his ideas as a fresh alternative to what he called Bush's failed policies.
Yet the tone changed almost immediately after Obama's win.
Bush, who had endorsed McCain, lauded Obama's victory as a "triumph of the American story." He warmly invited the Obama family to the White House.
Obama, in turn, thanked Bush for being gracious. The president-elect has made clear to the people of the United States and those watching around the world that there is only one president for now, and that's Bush. Obama is in the transition to power but does not assume the presidency until Jan. 20.
Josh Bolten, Bush's chief of staff, said Bush and Obama will be the only ones in the room when they meet.
"I'm sure each of them will have a list of issues to go down," Bolten said, interviewed on C-SPAN by reporters from The Associated Press and The Washington Post. "But I think that's something very personal to both of them. I know the president will want to convey to President-elect Obama his sense of how to deal with some of the most important issues of the day. But exactly how he does that, I don't know, and I don't think anybody will know."
Obama and wife, Michelle, are set to arrive at the White House on Monday afternoon. Bush and first lady Laura Bush will greet them.
In a bit of pageantry for the cameras, the president and president-elect are to walk along the Colonnade and into the Oval Office. The nice pictures, though, might be all people can expect; Bush and Obama are not scheduled to make any public statements during their time together.
Mrs. Bush and Mrs. Obama will meet privately, too.
Unlike the incoming president, Bush knew his way around the Oval Office by the time he was elected in 2000 — his father had been president. Still, like many before them, President Clinton and President-elect Bush had their own private meeting, keeping up a tradition that temporarily puts the presidency above politics.
Obama has been to the White House before, including an emergency leadership session to deal with the financial crisis in September.
But an Obama spokeswoman said the president-elect has never been in the Oval Office.