Despite differences, Obama to host Bush at White House

In this Nov. 10, 2008 file photo, President George W. Bush walks with President-elect Barack Obama down the Colonnade of the White House in Washington.
AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File
President Obama joins with former Presidents Bush and Clinton at the White House on Jan. 16, 2010, to launch a drive to raise funds after a devastating earthquake in Haiti.
Mark Knoller/CBS News

(CBS News) WASHINGTON -- At least for today, President Obama put aside his frequent talk of the economic "mess" and "trillion dollar deficit" he inherited, in order to cordially welcome the man he blames for it.

At a ceremony this afternoon in the East Room, President and Mrs. Obama unveil the portrait of 43rd President George W. Bush, which will become part of the permanent White House collection. A portrait of former First Lady Laura Bush will also be unveiled.

President Obama "looks forward" to the occasion, says his spokesman Jay Carney. It's a tradition that sitting U.S. presidents host portrait unveilings for their immediate predecessors.

President Bush did the same thing eight years ago nearly to the day when he welcomed former President Bill and Hillary Clinton to the White House.

It's often an exercise in political restraint especially when the current president publicly laments about the problems he attributes to the previous occupant of the Oval Office.

Here are some of the statements President Obama has made:

  • "...We've made sure to do everything we can to dig ourselves out of this incredible hole that I inherited."

  • "Look, we do have a serious problem in terms of debt and deficit and much of it I inherited when I showed up."

  • " We inherited the worst recession since the Great Depression, a banking system on the verge of meltdown. We had lost 4 million jobs."

And even in jest at the White House Correspondents Dinner last month, Mr. Obama took another swipe:

"Now, some have said I blame too many problems on my predecessor, but let's not forget that's a practice that was initiated by George W. Bush."

But to hear spokesman Jay Carney tell it, today it'll be sweetness and light, not only as President Obama welcomes George and Laura Bush but George H.W. and Barbara Bush as well.

"I think there is a community here with very few members that transcends political and policy differences," Carney said of the rare gathering.

The current and former White House tenants will have lunch together in the Red Room in advance of the portrait unveilings before an audience of current and former White House officials.

When in 2004, President Bush hosted the unveiling ceremony for Bill Clinton, his remarks were a showpiece of discretion.

"Over eight years, it was clear that Bill Clinton loved the job of the presidency. He filled this house with energy and joy. He's a man of enthusiasm and warmth, who could make a compelling case and effectively advance the causes that drew him to public service."

And Mr. Obama is expected to offer the same courtesy to President Bush in speaking of his presidency today.

It's not the first time President Bush has been to his successor's White House. He and his predecessor were invited here in January 2010, to head up a drive to raise funds for relief and reconstruction after the devastating earthquake in Haiti.

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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.