Bush greets Obama at the White House

WASHINGTON -- President Bush and President-elect Barack Obama met privately in the Oval office Monday in the first public steps in the transition to a new administration.

The meeting lasted about an hour. It was Obama's first visit to the White House since his election Nov. 4 and his first visit ever to the Oval Office.The soon-to-be commander-in-chief also got his first look at the Situation Room.

Bush and First Lady Laura Bush greeted Obama, and his wife, Michelle, at the South Portico entrance to the White House. The Obamas arrived 11 minutes early.

"Good to see you," the First Lady said. Obama replied, "thank you so much."

Three minutes later, Obama and Bush walked the colonnade that connects the main White House building with the West Wing and Oval Office. The two appeared to be chatting amiably, stopping occasionally to wave at reporters.

The first lady and Michelle Obama toured the residence, with particular emphasis on where the two Obama children will be living when the new president moves in on Jan. 20.

"She got a full view of just how beautiful and magnificent the house is, but also what a home it can be," Anita McBride, the first lady's chief of staff told MSNBC.

""She thought the (children's) rooms were beautiful and would be perfect for her two girls," she added.

Obama and Bush were meeting in a "tone of cooperation," despite sharp attacks on the president's record during the campaign, said White House spokesperson Dana Perino.

Perino referred to the transition as "critically important," 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.

Beforehand, Perino had 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.

White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and John Podesta, who is heading Obama's transition team, met separately.

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.

• Repealing some of President Bush's more controversial executive orders, including those restricting federal money for embryonic stem cell research and making certain public lands in Utah available for oil and gas drilling, Podesta told Fox News Sunday.

"There's a lot that the president can do using his executive authority without waiting for congressional action," Podesta said.

Perino said every new administration makes policy changes. She said Bush's orders "are in the best interest of the nation."

Emanuel said Obama would follow through on the new economic plan that he pledged during the campaign. That includes repealing Bush's tax cuts for wealthier people while providing new tax cuts for middle-class and working families who face higher bills for energy, education and health care, he said.

Obama's "tax plan is a net tax reduction," he told CBS' Face The Nation.

Contributing: Fredreka Schouten in McLean, Va.