Politics took a backseat at the White House Thursday as President George W. Bush and Laura Bush returned to witness the unveiling of their official portraits — and to trade zingers with the current occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
“George, I will always remember the gathering you hosted for all of the living former presidents before I took office. Your fine words of encouragement,” President Obama said. “Plus you also left me a really good TV sports package. I use it.”
Things only got better from there.
“When you are wandering these halls as you wrestle with tough decisions, you will now be able to gaze at this portrait and ask, ‘What would George do?’” joked Bush.
Here’s a reel of Obama, Bush, Laura Bush and Michelle Obama joking around at the ceremony:
The official portrait unveiling is a time-honored part of the post-presidency. The paintings are commissioned by the White House Historical Association, paid for with private funds and the artists are chosen by the subjects. The Bushes chose Texas native John Howard Sanden to paint their portraits, which will now join paintings of all other past presidents already hanging in the White House.
Here are Sanden’s finished products:
The Bushes’ warm welcome from Obama is not strange — the ceremony is historically an occasion where past president get chummy — but it’s striking that in the middle of a tough election year that Bush, the man who Democrats (and many Americans) continue to blame for so many of the country’s problems, was so jovial with the man who’s running a campaign based largely on fear of returning to Bush’s policies.
“It’s a small collection of people who know what it’s like to sit at the desk in the Oval Office and have to make the kinds of decisions that a president makes,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a briefing Thursday. “And again, the commonality there transcends politics.”