Good will and tears at Bush portrait unveiling

Charles Dharapak/AP

President Obama and the first lady had 14 members of the Bush family over for lunch on Thursday, as two generations of Bush presidents and others came to the White House for the unveiling of George W. and Laura Bush's official portraits. Obama and former President George W. Bush peppered their remarks with expressions of good will and jokes, but it was an undeniably emotional moment for the Bushes.

“I am pleased that my portrait brings an interesting symmetry to the White House collection,” Bush said. “It now starts and ends with a George W.” Noting that Dolly Madison rescued the portrait of George Washington during the war of 1812, Bush turned to Michelle Obama and said, “Now Michelle, if anything happens...there’s your man.”

Bush said to laughs, “I am also pleased, Mr. President, that as you are wandering these halls and wrestling with tough decisions, you’ll now be able to gaze at this portrait and ask: 'What would George do?' ”

Laura Bush had a few jokes of her own, noting that “nothing makes a house a home like having portraits of its former occupants staring down at you from the walls.” But by the end of the remarks by the former president and first lady, George W. and his daughters were tearing up.

Obama praised Bush's leadership on both economic and national security matters-- a rare departure from campaign-trail rhetoric.

“President Bush understood that rescuing our economy was not just a Democratic or Republican issue, it was an American priority,” Obama said of the 2008 financial crisis. He thanked Bush for helping him transition to power during such a turbulent time. 

“On that terrible September day when our country was attacked," Obama said, "all of us will always remember the image of President Bush standing on that pile of rubble, bull horn in hand, conveying extraordinary strength and resolve to the American people." He added that tracking down Osama bin Laden was the work of many people across two administrations, and that when bin Laden was killed, Bush was the first person he called.

Michelle Obama promised President Bush that, in an emergency, she'd protect his portrait.

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