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Obamas meet Bushes at White House

WASHINGTON

The hopeful began arriving more than an hour before the guest of honor, milling around 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. or working their way to the wrought-iron fence, cell phone cameras at the ready.

President-elect Barack Obama may call Chicago home, but for the next four years, at least, this will be his address, and the locals couldn't wait to say hi.

Even if they never saw him.

"I think most people, especially our age, haven't seen someone with so much charisma," said Bridget Van Buren, 27, a law student at American University who spent nearly two hours outside the White House, waiting for a sighting.

"We weren't around for Kennedy. He seems to have the same pull as Kennedy. And we want to be a part of it."

Obama's meeting Monday with President Bush at the White House marked a key step in the smooth transfer of power between administrations, as the two met for more than hour in the Oval Office to discuss a range of issues Obama will inherit upon his inauguration Jan. 20.

The president and first lady Laura Bush welcomed Obama and his wife, Michelle, just before 2 p.m. The men then adjourned for a private conversation, Obama's first visit to the Oval Office.

In keeping with tradition, neither the president nor the president-elect said anything public about it. Stephanie Cutter, a spokesman for the Obama-Biden transition team, said the two "had a productive and friendly meeting that lasted for over an hour."

"They had a broad discussion about the importance of working together throughout the transition of government in light of the nation's many critical economic and security challenges," the statement from Cutter said. "President-elect Obama thanked President Bush for his commitment to a smooth transition, and for his and first lady Laura Bush's gracious hospitality in welcoming the Obamas to the White House."

A short statement from the White House described their meeting as "good, constructive, relaxed and friendly."

Mrs. Obama also met privately with the first lady, whom she had never met before. Mrs. Bush gave her a tour of the living quarters, and noted that her own daughters, Jenna and Barbara, were about Malia and Sasha's ages when visiting their grandfather, former President George Bush, during his presidency.

"Mrs. Obama was honored to finally meet the first lady, who was a gracious hostess," Cutter said.

Earlier, the Washington Post reported, Mrs. Obama toured private Georgetown Day School — the city's first integrated school — as part of the couple's search for a school for Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7.

The Post said the Obama family also is considering the Maret School and Sidwell Friends School, a Quaker-run school that Chelsea Clinton and Albert Gore III attended when their fathers were president and vice president, respectively.

Washingtonians, of course, are used to rubbing shoulders with political luminaries. Members of Congress wander the bars, restaurants and leafy streets of Capitol Hill, a historic neighborhood just east of the Capitol, where many of them live.

It's not unusual to spot Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., working in their yards, or to run into House members perusing the art and food vendors at Eastern Market. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, often jogs around Lincoln Park before work, and Obama himself rented an apartment just a few blocks away.

The standard response is to shrug. But the city's gone gaga over Obama.

Locals are still scouring for commemorative newspapers from Nov. 5, and residents of Capitol Hill are entertaining requests to rent their homes during the inauguration.

(Tickets are available through members of Congress, but get in line: Sen. Bill Nelson's office has received 7,000 requests, and Florida members of Congress contacted Monday report getting hundreds of requests each. It's unclear how many tickets they will have to give away, but likely less than 400.)

On Capitol Hill, vendors are still selling Obama T-shirts. Monday, an older gentleman hawked 2009 Obama calendars from the trunk of his car on C Street NE.

Outside the White House, the lunch-hour crowd grew as the clock ticked toward 2 p.m., and people pestered stoic U.S. Park Police officers for hints on which way the Obamas might pass.

There were school groups from out of town, office workers from around the corner, moms with their babies who had taken the Metro from Capitol Hill.

"It's got shades of Kennedy," said Ed Smith, 64, of nearby Silver Spring, Md. "I was around when Kennedy was elected. He is a transformative leader, and people are looking for someone to get behind, and he's it. …

"That's why people are out there. It's not just to get a glimpse of him. They want to be a part of this history."

As it was, the Obamas' motorcade entered through the South Lawn, and neither he nor Bush made a statement. The crowd dissipated around 3, but no one seemed disappointed. "I can't wait to go back to work," said Emily Van Buren, who was visiting from Schenectady, N.Y., "just to tell everybody I was outside the White House while he was in it."

Wes Allison can be reached at allison@sptimes.com or (202) 463-0577.

Obamas meet Bushes at White House 11/10/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 11, 2008 7:12pm]
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