From left, President Barack Obama, former President George W. Bush, former first lay Laura Bush and first lady Michelle Obama, pose in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, May 31, 2012, during a ceremony to unveil the Bush portraits. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
WASHINGTON (AP) -- All smiles, President Barack Obama shared the stage with former President George W. Bush, the predecessor he often inveighs against, in a friendly White House welcome for the unveiling of the 43rd president's official portrait.
Obama told Bush and an assembly of former Bush aides and Cabinet members on Thursday: "We may have our differences politically, but the presidency transcends those differences."
Bush, light-hearted and expansive, saluted artist John Howard Sanden for "a fine job with a challenging subject."
With George Washington over his shoulder, Bush jokingly noted symmetry in the lineup of presidential portraits: "It now starts and ends with a George W."
It was a rare public appearance for the former president, who was joined by his wife, Laura, and other family members, including his father, former President George H.W. Bush, and his mother, former first lady Barbara Bush.
Obama thanked Bush for his service to the country and said it takes someone who has served as president to understand the challenges that face the White House occupant.
"In this job, no decision that reaches your desk is easy, no choice you make is without cost, no matter how hard you try, you're not going to make everybody happy," Obama said. "I think that's something that President Bush and I both learned pretty quickly."
What's more, he told Bush, "you left me a really good TV sports package. ... I use it."
The unveiling ceremony amounted to a reunion of old Bush-era hands, including former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Secretary of State Colin Powell, political adviser Karl Rove and Homeland Security head Tom Ridge. Before the ceremony, Obama and his wife, Michelle, hosted more than a dozen members of the Bush family for a private lunch.