Barack and Michelle Obama go to the White House

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Barack Obama stepped inside the Oval Office for the first time on Monday during a visit to the White House for talks with George W. Bush, outgoing president.

By Andrew Ward in Washington

It has long been a tradition for the president to invite his successor to the White House before leaving office, but this year’s meeting promised to be more substantive than usual given the urgent economic challenges awaiting the new administration.

Dana Perino, White House press secretary, refused to be drawn on the agenda, but it was widely assumed the financial crisis and broader economic malaise would be a central focus.

The topics One likely issue for discussion are likely to include the terms for a proposed second economic stimulus package that Mr Obama has urged Congress to pass before he takes office.

Mr Bush has signalled his willingness to consider another stimulus – on top of the $150bn (€118bn, £96bn) of tax relief earlier this year – to shore up the economy.

But Bush officials say the president wants the Democratic-controlled Congress to drop its opposition to the proposed US free trade deal with Colombia in return for him approving further stimulus measures.

Rahm Emanuel, appointed last week as Mr Obama’s chief of staff, indicated on Sunday that his new boss would resist any attempt by Mr Bush to force through the Colombia deal.

In another potential flashpoint between the president and president-elect, Mr Emanuel also voiced support for Democratic efforts to extend government support to the ailing US car industry in spite of resistance from the White House.

Despite the potential for conflict, both Mr Bush and Mr Obama have stressed their willingness to work together in a bipartisan fashion during the transition phase since the latter beat John McCain, the Republican candidate, in last week’s election.

Looking ahead to yesterday’s meeting, Mr Obama said: “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 recognise the severity of the situation right now and want to get stuff done.”

Mr Obama harshly attacked Mr Bush and his “failed” policies throughout the campaign, but the president has shown no signs of taking the criticism to heart.

In his statement after the election, Mr Bush lauded Mr Obama’s win as “a triumph of the American story, a testament to hard work, optimism and faith in the enduring promise of our nation”.

Mr Obama has visited the White House in the past, but on Monday marked his first time inside the oval-shaped office that he will inherit in just over two months.

The two men were expected to meet alone, allowing a candid discussion about the demands of the job and the pressing issues Mr Obama will face when he takes office on January 20.

The meeting came as aides to Mr Obama made clear the president-elect was planning to move swiftly to revoke a series of Bush administration policies once in office.

“There’s a lot that the president can do using his executive authority without waiting for congressional action,” said John Podesta, co-chair of the Obama transition team. “I think he feels like he has a real mandate for change. We need to get off the course that the Bush administration has set.”

The Financial Times

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