Obama Praises McCain, Powell, Biden Before Taking Oath

By Lee Speigel

Jan 19, 2009 10:18pm

From Jake Tapper and Jennifer Duck:

President-elect Barack Obama made three separate appearances at pre-inauguration dinners honoring his former rival Sen. John McCain, former Secretary of State Gen Colin Powell, and Vice President-elect Joe Biden.

Obama sported a long black tie instead of the more traditional bow tie and spoke of each of the honorees with praise.

As he addressed the first bipartisan crowd honoring McCain, a herd of guests inched up toward the stage eager to take pictures of the soon-to-be commander in chief.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick introduced the president-elect as the crowd gave Mr. Obama a very long standing ovation. 

"I’m here tonight to say a few words about an American hero I have come to know very well and admire very much — Sen. John McCain," Obama said 

"And then, according to the rules agreed to by both parties, John will have approximately 30 seconds to make a rebuttal," he joked.

"It has not been a quest for fame or vanity that has driven this man.  It has not been the need to compromise for politics’ sake that has shaped his distinguished career," Obama said in a more serious tone talking about McCain." It is rather a pure and deeply felt love of his country that comes from the painful knowledge of what life is like without it."

The president-elect then invited McCain up to the stage. They hugged and Obama continued to compliment McCain as camera flashes took over the ballroom stage. 

“John is not known to bite his tongue,” Obama said with a smile, “and If I’m screwing up, he’s going to let me know. And that’s how it should be because a presidency is just one branch of a broader government by and for the people.”

He closed saying, "We will not always agree on everything in the months to come, and we will have our share of arguments and debates.  But let us strive always to find that common ground, and to defend together those common ideals, for it is the only way we can meet the very big and very serious challenges that we face right now."

Stressing bi-partisanship yet again at his second appearance of the night, Obama emphasized former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s service to Democrats and Republicans.

He spoke of Powell’s "consistent loyalty to a set of principles: truth, loyalty and determination."

"The lesson he’s learned from his own rise is not his own greatness, but his nation’s greatness," Obama concluded at the dinner in Powell’s honor at the National Building Museum.

The night ended with a final stop honoring Vice President-elect Joe Biden.

Obama talked about Biden’s struggles early in life and also stressed his great accomplishments and national security experience. 

The president-elect genuinely described his number two as a man with "a core authenticity grounded in the fact that no matter how high he climbs, he never forgets when he came from."

The final line of the night drew a roaring applause: "We’ll see you tomorrow."

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