Tuesday, December 10, 2013

After Mandela Memorial, The Obamas And The Bushes Dine Together Aboard Air Force One

The Presidential couples just before dinner aboard AF1
Capping the whirlwind trip, a bipartisan social dinner in the Presidential suite...
*See update note at bottom
On Tuesday after the emotional memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, South Africa, President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush dined together with First Lady Michelle Obama and former First Lady Laura Bush aboard Air Force One as they flew home to Washington, DC, according to the White House.  

The bipartisan dinner, billed as a "social" gathering by the White House, capped the day of heartfelt tributes to Mandela, who died on Dec. 5 at age 95.  Speaking in a rainstorm to about 60,000 mourners gathered at FNB Stadium, including a who's-who of global leaders, President Obama hailed Mandela as "a giant of history."

While boarding AF1 together at Waterkloof Air Force Base, the Obamas, smiling, waited for the Bushes at the top of the airstairs.  The two couples then dined in the plane's conference room, part of President Obama's private onboard suite.

It was a first for the 32,000 mile round trip:  The Bushes flew with the Obamas to Johannesburg on Monday, too, but the couples did not dine together during the roughly sixteen-hour journey. 

"They’re all in the conference room having dinner," Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters during an in-flight gaggle.

"The President and Mrs. Obama have been very glad to host former President Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush, as well as Secretary Clinton on the flight out here, and it’s been a nice time for everybody to share together," Carney said.

Hillary Clinton was not on the flight back to the States, traveling separately with former President Bill Clinton and daughter Chelsea Clinton

The Obamas & Bushes board AF1 at Waterkloof AFB
Senior officials who were part of the American memorial delegation also dined in the conference room with the Obamas and the Bushes, Carney said, including National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Attorney General Eric Holder, Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, and Tina Tchen, Mrs. Obama's Chief of Staff, who are in the photo at the top of the post.

"It’s just a social dinner," Carney stressed, warning reporters there would be no readout of the conversation that took place.  Both flights included a refueling stop in Dakar, Senegal.

The meals served aboard the highly customized Boeing 747-200B series aircraft are prepared on the plane by Air Force specialists; there are two food preparation galleys that can feed 100 people at a time.  

Meals are served on gold-rimmed Air Force One china.  Beverages are served in glassware embossed with the Presidential Seal.  Cutlery is presented wrapped inside a folded napkin, held together with a paper ring with the Presidential Seal.  

Paper napkins are embossed with "Aboard the Presidential Aircraft," and even the small personal bottles of condiments that are available are logo'd too.  Bowls of fruits, chips, and candy are placed at strategic locations around the plane, and these include the famous boxes Presidential M&Ms, which feature President Obama's autograph on one side and the Presidential Seal on the other.

Monday: The Obamas with Mrs. Clinton & aides on AF1
Monday on AF1...
President Obama's AF1 conference room saw a lot of social action during the whirlwind trip.  Flying from DC to South Africa on Monday, White House aides said, during the first leg of the trip the President and Mrs. Obama congregated in the conference room with the Bushes and Mrs. Clinton.

At other times, aides said, the Obamas were in the presidential cabin, while the Bushes stayed in the medical office just behind that cabin, which is also part of the presidential suite.  Mrs. Clinton spent private time in the senior staff cabin.

President Bush shows photographs of his paintings
Mr. Bush has taken up painting since leaving the White House, and during one of the gatherings in the conference room, he showed photos of these to Mrs. Clinton, Mrs. Obama, Jarrett, Rice and Holder on Monday, as his wife looked on, according to photos the White House released after the trip.

On Monday Mr. Bush also twice visited the back of the plane to chat with the press pool--off the record--for about 90 minutes.  Mrs. Clinton also visited with reporters just after the refueling stop refueling in Dakar.

Mr. Obama & Mr. Bush aboard AF1 on Monday
Air Force One is scheduled to land at Andrews Air Force Base at 6:25 AM on Wednesday morning, with the President and Mrs. Obama expected to arrive back at the White House at 6:40 AM, barring inclement weather.

President Obama has no public events scheduled for Wednesday.

*Update: On Dec. 11, after the President's return to DC, the White House released photos of the airborne action, published here.  Photos Pete Souza/White House