Welcoming George W. Bush back to the White House Thursday for the unveiling of the former president's official portrait, President Obama thanked his predecessor for his guidance during their transition more than three years ago. But the sitting president took the opportunity to mention the economic crisis that occurred on Bush's watch. "The months before I took the oath of office were a chaotic time. We knew our economy was in trouble, our fellow Americans were in pain, but we wouldn't know until later just how breathtaking the financial crisis had been," Obama said Thursday in the East Room of the White House.
"George you went out of your way to make sure that the transition to a new administration was as seamless as possible. President Bush understood that rescuing our economy was not just a democratic or republican issue." Obama said
The president often blames Bush for the state of the economy, the national debt and two wars overseas. It's a common reference in the president's campaign speeches and fundraisers. But the White House insisted that Thursday's event would not be political. Prior to the event, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney promised reporters the meeting of presidents would not be awkward and that there is much respect between them. "There is a commonality of experience that transcends political differences," Carney said.
In the East Room full of former Bush White House employees, Bush seemed at ease and after the Texan's portrait was unveiled for the first time he joked to president Obama that "maybe now sometimes you'll look up and say 'what would George do?'"
And Obama has called on the former president for advice since taking office. The commander in chief was quick to share the credit for last year's capture and kill of Usama bin Laden with his predecessor, telling guests at the unveiling that Bush was his first phone call after he heard the mission was a success. "When we delivered justice to Osama bin Laden, I made it clear that our success was due to many people in many organizations working together over many years -- across two administrations," he said.
For George and Laura Bush, the portrait unveiling was also a family event. Seated front and center with their daughters Jenna and Barbara, along with former first lady Barbara Bush and the 41st President of the United States, George HW Bush. "I am honored to be hanging near a man who gave me the greatest gift possible, unconditional love," Bush said of the father and son portraits.
Bush also played historian, telling the guests that when the British burned the White House in 1814, Dolley Madison saved the first presidential portrait of George Washington. Pointing at his freshly painted portrait, Bush addressed the current first lady, joking, "Now, Michelle, if anything happens there's your man."
The jokes continued on the other side, with President Obama thanking his predecessor for some perks he left behind at the White House. "You also left me a really good TV sports package," Obama the sports fan noted he uses it.
The president and Mrs. Obama were also grateful for to the Bushes for their success raising two daughters in the White House. As parents of two daughters as well, Obama said the Bush parenting success "obviously gives Michelle and I tremendous hope as we try to do the right thing by our own daughters in this slightly odd atmosphere that we've created."
Between the jokes and sentimental memories of living at the White House, both presidents remarked on their love of America. "One of the greatest strengths of our democracy is our ability to peacefully, and routinely, go through transitions of power," Obama said. "It speaks to the fact that we've always had leaders who believe in America, and everything it stands for, above all else -- leaders and their families who are willing to devote their lives to the country that they love."