Bushes Spend Last Weekend in Camp David as First Couple

The president and Laura Bush retreated to Camp David after staff goodbyes.

Jan. 19, 2009— -- In what was likely a bittersweet moment, the White House cleared out its offices as the president and first lady planned their departure from Washington D.C., after eight years in the country's most prized residence.

President Bush prepared to dine together one last time in the White House tonight with wife Laura, twin daughters Jenna and Barbara, and parents, former president George H.W. Bush and Barbara.

President Bush held a farewell lunch for his staff Friday and made final calls to some world leaders before departing for Camp David with his wife, Laura. The two spent their last weekend as the first couple in the seclusion of "The Camp" as their staff collected their belongings and emptied their desks at the White House.

"It [Camp David] is a place that they have thoroughly enjoyed," White House press secretary Dana Perino told reporters last week. "They love having their family there, they've spent a lot of special moments there, and it's a good place to get away from Washington, D.C. ... He [Bush] loves to be able to go up there and he can ride his mountain bike as well, and just spend a little bit of quiet time."

On Sunday, Bush made more final phone calls, including to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of Russia and South Korean president Lee Myung-bak.

Bush spent Thursday visiting the State Department to thank the staff for their service, and appeared before the nation in his last televised address as president. He visited Wednesday with family members of military personnel who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The White House slowly turned into a ghost town Friday as staffers packed up and bid goodbye to their posts. Only chief of staff Josh Bolten, counselor Ed Gillespie and Perino remained there during the weekend on standby.

After the swearing-in ceremony Tuesday, the Bushes will fly out to Andrews Air Force base, where they plan to speak to more than 4,000 friends and supporters in a private event, after which they will fly to Crawford, Texas. Several longtime staffers, such as former adviser Karl Rove, Bolten and Joel Kaplan, deputy chief of staff for policy, are expected to accompany the Bushes to their home state.

Bush's Curtain Call

In his 33rd and final prime-time address as president to the nation, delivered from the East Room of the White House to a live audience, Bush framed his presidency as one filled with challenges and accomplishments.

"There have been good days and tough days," the president said in a speech that was relatively devoid of emotion, compared to his other recent addresses. "But every day I have been inspired by the greatness of our country and uplifted by the goodness of our people."

Bush spent much of his past few weeks in office defending his legacy and his administration's policies.

At his final news conference with White House correspondents Jan. 12, Bush admitted he made some mistakes but said he did what he believed was necessary to strengthen the economy and protect the United States.

Bush's 'Head Held High'

"I don't see how I can get back home in Texas and look in the mirror and be proud of what I see if I allowed the loud voices, the loud critics, to prevent me from doing what I thought was necessary to protect this country," he told reporters.

At his final Cabinet meeting Jan. 13, the president added to that sentiment, saying, "I tell people I leave town with a great sense of accomplishment and my head held high. ... This administration has had a good, solid record. ... I'm proud of the job that we've done."

In an interview with Charles Gibson last month, Bush stressed that he was unprepared for war and that he never compromised his principles.

"I think when the history of this period is written, people will realize a lot of the decisions that were made on Wall Street took place over a decade or so, before I arrived..." he said.

Moving out of the White House after eight years was not as difficult for the Bushes as one might expect.

"Mrs. Bush did express that she knew when she moved here that she would have lovely historic pieces to choose from, so she did not bring a lot of furniture," communications director Sally McDonough said. "She did bring a piece that was important to her, and it is a chest of drawers that belonged to President Bush's grandmother."

The Obama family's belongings will be delivered to the White House at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, right before former President-elect Barack Obama is sworn in as president. The White House will be cleaned by a crew of more than 95, who -- among other tasks -- will clear out any remaining boxes, throw out food in the refrigerator, clear out the Bushes' furniture and paint the residence. However, the sunburst carpet designed by president and Laura Bush might stay as Obama has said he "loves" that rug.

When in Texas ...

The Bushes are leaving the White House but they might not be exiting the limelight for some time, and the president certainly doesn't plan on simply lounging and relaxing.

"I'm a Type-A personality. ... I just can't envision myself, you know, the big straw hat and a Hawaiian shirt sitting on some beach, particularly since I quit drinking," Bush told a news conference last week.

Bush has said he plans to write a book, although he has not been specific about the focus. Plans are also under way for the George W. Bush presidential library and center at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, for which Bush has tapped his former adviser, Michael E. Meece, as chief of staff.

"He's eager to continue to promote the unwavering ideals and principles for which he has stood while serving as president of the United States," Perino said last week.

Bush: It 'Has Been Joyful'

Bush documents were removed from the National Archives last week and taken to Dallas for the Bush Library.

In Texas, the Bushes have tapped former White House aide Rob Saliterman as their press secretary. Saliterman is a public affairs specialist for international affairs at the Treasury Department.

Whatever his legacy, Bush certainly left the White House on a upbeat note.

"...The president ends up carrying a lot people's grief in his soul during a presidency," he told ABC News' Charles Gibson in December. "One of the things about the presidency is you deal with a lot of tragedy, whether it be hurricanes, or tornados, or fires, or death, and you spend time being the comforter-in-chief. But the idea of being able to serve a nation you love is -- has been joyful."