WASHINGTON - For a moment, at least, the acrimony among Republicans and Democrats cooled as President Bush stood in the regal East Room of the White House yesterday and paid glowing tribute to his predecessor.
"President Clinton and Senator Clinton, welcome home," Bush said, extending an affectionate greeting to the 42nd president and his wife, now a senator from New York, as their official portraits were unveiled and later hung in the executive mansion.
The visit was Clinton's first return to the White House since his term ended Jan. 20, 2001. By happenstance, or perhaps a case of entrepreneurial luck, the unveiling of Clinton's portrait came only days before he launches a high-profile re-emergence on the political stage with the release of his memoir.
As Bush praised Clinton for embodying the "forward-looking spirit that Americans like in a president," he also spoke of the "extraordinary ride" Clinton took from small-town Arkansas to Washington. Before he went further, Bush paused, saying: "I could tell you more of the story, but it's coming out in fine bookstores all over America!"
With that plug, Clinton beamed.
The memoir, My Life, is set to be released June 22.
"The years have done a lot to clarify the strengths of this man," Bush said, looking at his predecessor with a wide smile. "Bill Clinton could always see a better day ahead and Americans knew he was working hard to bring that day closer."
Looking at Chelsea Clinton in the audience, Bush said: "It's great to see you, Chelsea! The fact that you survived your teenage years in the White House speaks to the fact you had a great Mom and Dad."
And Bush applauded Hillary Clinton, too, saying: "Listen, New York politics is serious business. It's rough business. It takes an extraordinary person to campaign and win the United States Senate."
"The president, by his generous words to Hillary and me today, has proved once again that in the end, we are held together by this grand system of ours that permits us to debate and struggle and fight for what we believe is right," Clinton said.