Obama hails ‘extraordinary gathering’ of presidents

WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama hailed a rare Oval Office gathering of all U.S. presidents as extraordinary today, while President George W. Bush wished him well and pledged that the office “transcends the individual.”

“I just want to thank the president for hosting us,” the president-elect said, flanked by former President George H.W. Bush on one side and his son on the other.

Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, both smiling broadly, stood with them.

“All the gentlemen here understand both the pressures and possibilities of this office,” Obama said. “For me to have the opportunity to get advice, good counsel and fellowship with these individuals is extraordinary.”

In a swift photo opportunity, the current president wished Obama well before all five men headed off for a private lunch.

“I want to thank the president-elect for joining the ex-presidents for lunch,” Bush said, even though he’s not quite a member of that club yet.

“One message that I have and I think we all share is that we want you to succeed, whether we’re Democrat or Republican we care deeply about this country,” Bush said. “All of us who have served in this office understand that the office itself transcends the individual.”

Bush and Obama also met privately for roughly 30 minutes.

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