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Inside Politics

Bush welcomes Clintons for portrait unveiling

Former President Clinton inspects his portrait at the unveiling Monday at the White House.
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The Clintons unveil their White House portraits.

Artist Simmie Knox explains the thrill of painting a president.

CNN's Jeanne Moos has her take on the ceremony.
White House
Bill Clinton
Hillary Rodham Clinton
George W. Bush

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush praised his predecessor's "energy and joy" Monday as the official portraits of former President Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton were unveiled in a lighthearted ceremony at the White House.

The Clintons received a standing ovation from guests in the East Room of the executive mansion before the paintings by artist Simmie Knox were revealed.

"President Clinton and Sen. Clinton, welcome home," Bush said.

Clinton said it was a great honor for him, his wife -- now a U.S. senator from New York -- and their family to return to "this wonderful place we called home for eight years."

Bush's introduction, he said, "made me feel like a pickle stepping into history."

"The president, by his generous words to Hillary and me today, has proved once again that 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," Clinton said.

Knox, a self-taught artist, also has created official portraits of former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and several members of Congress. Clinton said Knox's life -- the painter was born in 1935 to a family of sharecroppers in Aliceville, Alabama -- is "a great American story." (Full story)

Bush said Mrs. Clinton is the only sitting senator whose portrait hangs in the White House.

"It is a somewhat daunting experience to have your portrait hung in the White House," she said. "It is something that really does, more than any other act, sort of puts your place in history in this building for all the ages and all the people who come through here to see and reflect upon."

Disparaged by many Republicans during his two terms in office and impeached over allegations he lied under oath about an affair with a White House intern, Clinton said he hoped to "live long enough to see us return to vigorous debates where we argue who's right and wrong, not who's good and bad."

"My experience is most of the people I've known in this work are good people who love their country desperately," he said. "And I am profoundly grateful that for a brief period I had a chance to be one of them."

Bush, who is facing a bitter re-election campaign, praised the optimism Clinton displayed throughout his political career. "After all, you've got to be optimistic to give six months of your life running the McGovern campaign in Texas," he said, referring to Clinton's role in the 1972 presidential race.

"Bill Clinton could always see a better day ahead, and Americans knew he was working hard to bring that day closer. Over eight years, it was clear that Bill Clinton loved the job of the presidency. He filled this house with energy and joy."

After a brief recap of Clinton's career, Bush added, "I could tell you more of the story -- but it's coming out in fine bookstores all over America." Clinton's memoirs are scheduled to be published June 22.

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