President-elect Barack Obama, in his first-ever visit to the Oval Office, will meet with President Bush Monday for 90 minutes in a "tone of cooperation," despite sharp attacks on the president's record during the campaign, the White House spokesperson said.
The two men will meet alone in the Oval Office while first lady Laura Bush gives Michelle Obama, her soon-to-be successor, a tour of the residence.
The president will likely want to discuss the mechanics of a transition that is "critically important," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, both because of the ailing economy and the continuing threat of a terrorist attack.
The traditional get-acquainted ritual follows a long, bitter presidential campaign in which Obama hammered the "failed policies" of the Bush administration.
Perino dismissed worries that such political attacks might chill their meeting. Bush lets those things "slide off his back" and "just lets those things go."
Bush and Obama have political differences, but are proceeding with a "tone of cooperation" and a "spirit of partnership" when it comes to the overall running of the government, she said. "They both love their country equally," Perino said.
Bush, in remarks to the outgoing executive staff, said last week it was time to put politics aside and ensure a smooth transition to the new administration.
Obama, who left for Washington from Chicago Monday after taking his two daughters to school, said last week that he planned to meet with Bush "with a spirit of bipartisanship, and a sense that both the president and various leaders of Congress all recognize the severity of the situation right now and want to get stuff done.
Perino said there will also be a separate meeting between White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and John Podesta, who is heading Obama's transition team.
Bolten said he was sure that Bush and Obama "will have a list of issues to go down."
"But I think that's something very personal to both of them," Bolten said on C-SPAN in an interview with The Associated Press and The Washington Post. "I know the president will want to convey to President-elect Obama his sense of how to deal with some of the most important issues of the day. But exactly how he does that, I don't know, and I don't think anybody will know."
Meanwhile, Obama's aides were off and running, prodding Congress to act quickly on new federal aid to the middle class, the devastated auto industry and people facing high energy bills.
"The American people, right now, need help economically," incoming White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said Sunday on ABC's This Week With George Stephanopoulos.
In a series of interviews Sunday, Emanuel and Podesta said the president-elect has a set of priorities on which he wants quick action. They include:
• A stimulus plan to boost the economy by extending unemployment benefits, helping states provide health insurance and creating jobs by building roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
• Help for the auto industry, which is reeling from the financial crisis. Emanuel also said the current administration can rush the spending of a $25 billion loan package to help companies retool their factories to develop more fuel-efficient cars.