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Clinton Returns to the White House in Portrait - 2004-06-14

They may be political adversaries, but there were words of grace and unity Monday when President Bush and former President Clinton shared a podium at the White House. The occasion was the unveiling of the official portraits of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

As you stroll the hallways, and peak into the rooms of the White House, there are portraits everywhere.

They are the portraits of the men and women who once called this house their home. Now, the Clintons are joining them.

President Bush presided at the unveiling of the Clinton's official White House portraits. Like all the participants in the ceremony, he put politics aside, never mentioning that Bill Clinton defeated his father in the 1992 election, or the controversies surrounding the final years of his presidency.

Instead, Mr. Bush looked back with a positive eye, praising his predecessor's accomplishments in office. "Over eight years, it was clear that Bill Clinton loved the job of the presidency," said Mr. Bush. "He filled this house with energy and joy. He is a man of enthusiasm and warmth who could make a compelling case, and effectively advance the causes that drew him to public service."

Mr. Clinton recalled how he used to walk around the White House as president, looking at the portraits of all those who came before him. He spoke of the ties that bind together all the men who have held the presidency, from George Washington to George W. Bush.

"In the end, we are held together by this grand system of ours that permits us to debate and struggle and fight for what we believe is right," said Mr. Clinton. "And because it is free, because it is a system of majority rule and minority rights, we are still around here after over 200 years, and most of the time we get it right."

The paintings of the Clintons are the work of artist Simmie Knox, the first African-American chosen to create an official presidential portrait. At the official unveiling ceremony, President Bush noted that Hillary Clinton's likeness marks another important first. "She takes an interesting spot in American history today," he said, "for she is the only sitting senator whose portrait hangs in the White House."

The former first lady, who now represents New York State in the Senate, said seeing her portrait in the executive mansion, along with the wives of other former presidents, is a great honor.

"It is a very difficult role," said Senator Clinton, "and it is one that you do not seek, but you support the person you love who is seeking the presidency."

President Clinton's portrait is being hung in the main hallway of the White House state floor. Senator Clinton's will be placed in a reception area, near the portrait of former first lady Barbara Bush.