Bill Clinton often says he loved being president--and on Friday, he enjoyed a bit of an encore. And stretched it out.
After a private meeting with his predecessor, President Obama surprised the press corps by escorting Clinton into the White House briefing room. After making a brief statement about their joint support of the bipartisan tax deal, Obama turned the podium over to Clinton.
In an extraordinary tableau, Obama stood off to the side wearing the kind of admiring smile usually assumed by political spouses as Clinton took the lead in providing an impassioned defense of the current president's programs. After a few minutes, Obama excused himself, pleading a date with his wife at one of the White House Christmas parties.
The former president talked on. And on. And on.
"I'm happy to be here," he said.
That was a big change from his years at the White House, when members of the press corps routinely complained about their lack of access when Clinton was president. On Friday, they got to ask question after question, and Clinton seemed prepared to stay indefinitely.
It also represented a striking change from 2008, when Clinton and Obama were political adversaries. Clinton raised hackles in the Obama camp with his tactics on behalf of his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.
That's all ancient history now, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs assured reporters before the meeting. "They have a very warm relationship," he said.
Obama requested the meeting several weeks ago, Gibbs said, because "there are very few that you can talk to who have done the job. And he greatly values the ability to ... have those discussions and looks forward to seeing and talking with the former president today."