Barack Obama and George W. Bush met privately yesterday in the Oval Office for 65 minutes. Speaking in the Oval Office without staff, no notes were taken, and aides to both men were reluctant to share second-hand details with the media, preferring words like "friendly" and "productive." Still there has been some leaks about what was on President-elect Barack Obama's mind.
The struggling auto industry seems to have been a major topic of conversation. What to do for the big three auto companies has become the cause of a political standoff between the White House and Democrats. It is being reported that President-elect Barack Obama urged President Bush in their meeting to support immediate emergency aid.
Mr. Bush indicated at the meeting that he might support some aid and a broader economic stimulus package if Mr. Obama and Congressional Democrats dropped their opposition to a free-trade agreement with Colombia, people familiar with the discussion said.
The Bush administration, which has presided over a major intervention in the financial industry, has balked at allowing the automakers to tap into the $700 billion bailout fund, despite warnings last week that General Motors might not survive the year. Mr. Obama and Congressional Democratic leaders say the bailout law authorizes the administration to extend assistance.
Mr. Obama went into his post-election meeting with Mr. Bush on Monday primed to urge him to support emergency aid to the auto industry, advisers to Mr. Obama said. But Democrats also indicate that neither Mr. Obama nor Congressional leaders are inclined to concede the Colombia pact to Mr. Bush, and may decide to wait until Mr. Obama assumes power on Jan. 20.
NBC's Andrea Mitchell had a similar report about Obama having urged the president to consider "a stimulus package in the lame duck session, aid to the auto industry, and help for homeowners with adjustable-rate mortgages in order to prevent more foreclosures."
In other words, as far as Obama is concerned, Bush can use his remaining weeks in office productively, and as far as Bush is concerned, he'll take these issues seriously if Democrats give him the trade deal he wants.
This probably isn't going to work out as Bush would like -- lawmakers realize that an Obama White House isn't that far away.