President Bush and President-elect Barack Obama were all smiles and handshakes outside the White House Monday, but the president's aides strongly denied today leaks suggesting that Bush had tried to cut a deal with Obama over a new stimulus plan.
Leaks about their confidential chat in the Oval Office also suggested that Obama had pressed a reluctant Bush to extend an immediate helping hand to the desperate auto industry.
The two men met for about an hour at the White House, and aides were excluded from the private sitdown.
Neither Bush nor Obama said anything publicly today about their meeting, although both made Veterans Day appearances.
Bush commemorated the day aboard the former aircraft carrier the USS Intrepid, now a museum docked in Manhattan.
Obama, accompanied by disabled Iraqi War veteran Tammy Duckworth, laid a wreath in front of a bronze war memorial at the John F. Kennedy War Memorial at Chicago's Soldier Field.
Bush has vowed to carry out a smooth transition with Obama, despite the fact that Obama pummeled Bush's leadership for most of his two-year campaign for the presidency.
Those policy differences apparently surfaced during their Monday meeting when they disagreed on Obama's hopes for a quick stimulus package and prompt help for the auto industry.
Reports leaking out of the meeting suggested that Bush indicated he would support Obama's hopes for another round of stimulus checks for U.S. taxpayers if Congress would also approve a long-stalled, free-trade pact with Colombia.
Leaks also said that Obama urged Bush to use part of the $700 billion in bailout funds to help the country's automobile makers immediately, to which Bush remained noncommital.
Obama's camp was mum today, but White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters before the ceremony aboard the USS Intrepid that the president did not try to cut a deal with Obama on his stimulus request.
"In no way did the president suggest a quid pro quo when it comes to the Colombian Free Trade agreement or other free trade agreements," she said. "He believes it can and should pass on its own merit.
"The president does support free trade, but did not suggest a quid pro quo. He did discuss the merits of free trade, but there was no linkage between Colombia Free Trade and a second stimulus package," Perino insisted.
When asked if there was some White House irritation about the leaks, Perino said, "You're not going to hear that from me. I think when you're dealing with aides who choose to be nameless rather than say what they feel ... on the record ... It happens, but the president did not suggest a quid pro quo."
Perino added, "I'll let unidentified aides defend themselves, if you guys can find them. But I can tell you here, on the record, not afraid to say it, the president does support free trade."
Perino made clear, however, that the president does not agree with Obama that a Democratic plan for a fresh round of stimulus checks is the best way to help the country's economy.
"When it comes to a second stimulus package, what I have told you for a week or so is that so far we have not seen something that would stimulate the economy right away," she said.
"The best way for us to do that is to implement the rescue package that we are currently doing to help improve the credit markets."
At another point, Perino said that it's a "stretch" for the Democrats to call their proposal a stimulus plan.