ABC News’ Kirit Radia Reports: It was the most exclusive lunch in the world — the menu and the agenda were secret, but one can be sure there was a lot on their plate.
President-elect Barack Obama met today with President George Bush and three former presidents in the first meeting of living presidents at the White House since 1981.
“All of the gentlemen here understand both the pressures and possibilities of this office,” Obama told reporters before the lunch. “And for me to have the opportunity to get advice, good counsel, and fellowship with these individuals is extraordinary.”
Asked what he will learn from his predecessors’ mistakes, Obama smiled and said he will learn from "their successes."
"I think [what] we all share is that we want you to succeed. Whether we’re Democrat or Republican, we care deeply about this country. And to the extent we can, we look forward to sharing our experiences with you," President Bush said.
"All of us who have served in this office understand that the office itself transcends the individual — and we wish you all the very best," the outgoing president said.
Obama met with Bush for half an hour before sitting down with former presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, without any staff present.
While the five men have had their vocal differences in the past, none of the tension was on display at a photo op in the Oval Office.
"Although they may disagree on some policy prescriptions in order to solve problems in America, they’re obviously all rooting for the same team," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said before the meeting.
Afterwards, Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs issued a statement: "They had a very constructive conversation," he said. "The president-elect was grateful for their counsel and the spirit of bipartisanship they showed in wishing his administration success in meeting the challenges we all share as Americans. The president and the former presidents had helpful advice on managing the office as well as thoughts on the critical issues facing the country right now. The president-elect is anxious to stay in touch with all of them in the coming years."
Perino issued a separate statement, saying: "President Bush was delighted to have the former presidents and President-elect Obama to the White House today for a historic lunch in the Private Dining Room just off of the Oval Office. Each of them expressed their desire for President-elect Obama to have a very successful presidency. During the lunch, they had a wide-ranging discussion on many different issues facing the United States, and they all look forward to remaining in contact in the future."
Before the meeting Perino said the meeting would likely touch on both the business and personal aspecets of living at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
"There’ll be time to talk about issues that are — face the country currently, issues that they think might face the country in the future," she said. "But I’m sure they’ll also have a chance to talk about experiences and memories that they have in the White House, both on the personal side, about — such as raising a family in the public eye, raising a family in the White House, and also what it’s like to be in the post-presidency, as President Bush is about to experience in about 12 days."
She added that the leaders were likely to discuss the nation’s economic woes and the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.
“President Bush and President-elect Obama have developed a good relationship, and I’m sure that it will be deepened today,” Perino told reporters. “But one of the reasons that they’ve developed that good relationship is that they’ve been able to keep their conversations private.”
And in case you are wondering, the leaders did not dine on the new half million dollar set of White House china that first lady Laura Bush unveiled this morning.