WASHINGTON — President George W. Bush welcomed President-elect Barack Obama at the White House on Tuesday with a few hearty pats on the arm, a symbolic gesture to the transfer of power soon to take place.
Obama and his wife, Michelle, walked up the steps of the North Portico and exchanged handshakes, smiles and pecks on the cheeks with the outgoing president and first lady Laura Bush.
After posing for a photograph, the foursome went inside to have coffee in the Blue Room with Vice President-elect Joe Biden, his wife, Jill, and leaders of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.
Keeping with a White House ritual, Bush left a note for Obama in his desk in the Oval Office, wishing him well as he takes the reins of power.
"I won't provide any details, but the theme is similar to what he's said since election night about the fabulous new chapter President-elect Obama is about to start, and that he wishes him the very best," outgoing White House press secretary Dana Perino said Tuesday.
She said the two-term Republican incumbent wrote the message to his Democratic successor on Monday and left it in the top drawer of his desk, which was crafted from timbers from the H.M.S. Resolute and given to the U.S. by Great Britain in 1879.
Bush was in the office before 7 a.m. EST. He spoke on the phone with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, former White House chief of staff Andy Card and T.D. Jakes, the pastor of a megachurch in Dallas who will preach at a private church service that Obama is attending before the Inauguration.
"He's good," Perino said of the president's mood. "He's the president of the United States, the way he always is. He hasn't changed. He gave me a big kiss on the forehead."
She said Bush took one last stroll around the south grounds of the White House and would spend the rest of his final morning there with his wife, their daughters, Barbara and Jenna; and his father and mother, former President George H.W. Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush.
During his last moments at the White House, former President Ronald Reagan scribbled a note for his successor on a notepad with a turkey insignia that said, "Don't let the turkeys get you down." He, too, slipped the note in the presidential desk for his successor, the elder Bush.
Four years after that, Bush left a note for President Bill Clinton. And eight years after that, Clinton wrote a note for the younger Bush, and included a copy of the message he had received from Bush's father.
Bush's final half-day as president includes a goodbye to Washington and a hello from fellow Texans.
After the swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol, Bush will take a helicopter to Andrews Air Force Base, where he'll make private remarks inside a hangar.
The Bushes then will fly to Midland, Texas, on the familiar blue-and-white presidential aircraft, although it will be called Special Air Mission 28000 instead of Air Force One because Bush will no longer be president.
While the inauguration frenzy continues in Washington, thousands of well-wishers are expected to greet the Bushes at Centennial Plaza in Midland — the same place the president stopped on his way to the nation's capital for his own inauguration in 2001. While Bush was born in New Haven, Conn., he spent his childhood in Midland. He returned there as an adult in the 1970s and met the future first lady.
After the rally, the Bushes are flying to Waco, Texas, on their way to their 1,600-acre ranch in nearby Crawford.
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