A Passing Of House Keys

When President-elect Barack Obama meets with President George W. Bush at the White House on Monday, will there be substance on the agenda as well as a tour of the Oval Office?

Joe Lockhart, the former White House press secretary in the Clinton administration, said that Obama's visit will be partly practical - a walk-through of the residence, typical of new home owners.

"When you buy your home there is a day where, when you settle, the seller and the buyer come and they walk through the house; that's literally going to happen," Lockhart told The Early Show anchor Chris Wragge.

"I think on a more substantive level, I wouldn't expect there to be a lot of policy discussion. But the one thing President Bush I think can impart to President-elect Obama is what it's like to be in that office: what are the pressures, how you can keep from getting insulated from the people and your advisers, and that's something I think, you know, President-elect Obama would be well-served to really push President Bush on."

Today President Bush promised a smooth transition to the incoming administration would be a high priority.

"Our country faces economic challenges that will not pause to let a new president settle in," Mr. Bush said during his radio address. "This will also be America's first wartime presidential transition in four decades. We're in a struggle against violent extremists determined to attack us - and they would like nothing more than to exploit this period of change to harm the American people.

"I join the American people in wishing President-elect Obama every success," he said, noting the invitation to visit the Chief Executive's residence. "Laura and I wish the Obama family as much joy and happiness as our family has found in this wonderful house."

In the Democratic Party's radio response, President-elect Obama said that urgent action must be taken on the job and economic fronts.

"While we must recognize that we only have one president at a time and that President Bush is the leader of our government, I want to ensure that we hit the ground running on January 20 because we don't have a moment to lose," Obama said.

(CBS)
Lockhart (left) pointed out how during the next several weeks, as Obama appoints a Cabinet and staff members and sets up his policy-making apparatus, that he not be seen to step on the toes of Mr. Bush when speaking to the press about the economy and other matters.

"This is an intensely difficult time for Obama when he talks to the press," Lockhart said, "because it's no-win. There is only one president, President Bush. So he can't be critical. But he also doesn't want to own all of these problems, so just getting through it without making a mistake and then giving the country a sense that he is working on these problems was all he could ask for."

Lockhart said that cooperation is necessary between the outgoing and incoming administrations to make for a smooth transition, but that the president-elect (despite getting daily intelligence briefings) will not be a part of policy-making before Inauguration Day.

"I wouldn't expect him to be in on [Mr. Bush's] decisions," he said. "I think what President Bush needs to do is make sure that [Obama] understands the thinking process that his team is going through over the next 70 days. It's important for the country that the new president can start and hit the ground running, and to do that, he has to be aware of what's going on.

"But again, our constitution is pretty clear: President Bush, whether he is popular or not, is still the president. He'll decide things. But, you know, it's very important that there is cooperation between the two groups."

Wragge asked if the tempers of the presidential campaigns and the criticisms made against President Bush by Candidate Obama would temper their discussions.

"Both of them are seasoned politicians and understand the nature of the game," said Lockhart, who believed it is very important for Obama to set the right tone for his administration now.

"I think it's crucial. The most interesting thing in the press conference yesterday was, he came back repeatedly to this idea of, 'We've had the political season. It's time to put that aside. Bipartisanship is the song of the day.' I think this idea of Obama coming in and governing from the center, working with Republicans, working with Democrats, marginalizing those on the extremes is very important as far as setting his agenda - but, more importantly, getting anything done here in Washington.

"Listen: Barack Obama was elected in some measure because of the failure of George Bush, so there will be a little bit of tension there [between the two]."

Despite their differences, Lockhart feels that the two will have a long-term relationship. "I think there is a sense that this is a very exclusive club - people who have been President of the United States - and I think there is a kinship of people who understand the pressures that you go through, the personal investment that people make.

"I expect, knowing both of them a little bit, that this will be a very productive … maybe not warm session, but something that they both get something out of."

Lockhart said the sitting president and the First Lady can also offer invaluable advice that no one else can, to ease the transition for Obama and his family as they take up residence in the White House.

"I like to say that when you wake up at 2:00 o'clock in the morning these guys can't walk around the corner to 7-Eleven to get something to eat," he said. There is a system within that White House, there is a lot of support, but it takes a while to figure out how to do that."
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