WASHINGTON, November 10 – Barack Obama holds his first post-election meeting with President George W. Bush on Monday, promising a civil handover of power even as aides said he seeks to reverse current White House policy on oil drilling and stem cell research.
Mr Bush, who invited the president-elect to the White House to discuss the transition, in his weekend radio address applauded Obama’s election victory as a "triumph."
"He can count on my complete cooperation as he makes his transition to the White House," said the outgoing leader, who announced that he and his successor also would discuss Iraq and the global economic crisis in their first post-election face-to-face talks on Monday.
Mr Bush told about 1,000 aides during an emotional thank-you speech on Thursday that they needed to bring Obama’s team up to speed on critical matters like the war and the economic meltdown.
"I look forward to discussing those issues with the president-elect early next week," said Bush, who will hand the keys to the White House to the first black US president on January 20.
Mr Obama responded in a statement that he and his wife Michelle Obama "look forward to meeting with President Bush and the First Lady on Monday to begin the process of a smooth, effective transition."
"I thank him for reaching out in the spirit of bipartisanship that will be required to meet the many challenges we face as a nation," Mr Obama said.
The meeting will be Mr Obama’s first at the White House since his decisive November 4 victory.
But as both incoming Democrats and outgoing Republicans struck a tone of civility, Mr Obama’s transition chief signaled that the president-elect could wipe away some hallmarks of the Bush years, including a ban on embryonic stem cell research and moves to open new lands to oil drilling.
The move could signal a swift change of course after eight years under the Bush administration, even as top aides stressed Obama’s bipartisan aims and predicted the new cabinet could contain familiar faces, particularly at the Pentagon.
"On stem cell research, on a number of areas, you see the Bush administration, even today, moving aggressively to do things that I think are probably not in the interest of the country," transition chief John Podesta told Fox.
He said the incoming administration is reviewing "virtually every agency to see where we can move forward, whether that’s on energy transformation, on improving health care, on stem cell research."
Podesta, who also served as White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, said that he would not "preview decisions that he (Obama) has yet to make."
However, he pointed out that "as a candidate, Senator Obama said that he wanted all the Bush executive orders reviewed, and decide which ones should be kept, and which ones should be repealed, and which ones should be amended."
Among the measures that Podesta raised were the Bush administration’s move to authorize oil and gas drilling in the western state of Utah, and embryonic stem cell research, which Bush has limited because he views it as destruction of human life.
Meanwhile the Democrat, who has already appointed a chief of staff and is mulling options for key posts in treasury and defense, is busily crafting a diverse cabinet, his transition team co-chair Valerie Jarrett said.
"Throughout the campaign, president-elect Obama has talked about the importance of bipartisanship," she told NBC.
"I’m confident his administration will include people from all perspectives," said Jarrett, a close aide to Mr Obama who served as his Senate campaign finance director in 2004.
With the US military engaged on two fronts in Iraq and Afghanistan, a key question has been whether Mr Obama would keep on Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
"I think everything is a possibility right now," Jarrett said when asked if the new administration would consider keeping Gates in his post.
Bush’s chief of staff Josh Bolten said the White House was also working hard to ensure a seamless transition.
"Because if a crisis hits on January 21, they’re the ones who are going to have to deal with it. We need to make sure that they’re as well prepared as possible," Bolten said on C-Span television.