Amid the hyper-partisan clash over changing Senate rules to push through executive-branch nominations, President Obama savored a moment of bipartisan comity in heralding the work of former President George H.W. Bush in promoting volunteerism across the country.
Obama and the first President Bush — "41," as he calls himself — shared a stage Monday for a ceremony in the East Room honoring the 5,000th Daily Point of Light Award, granted to a retired couple who created a nonprofit to feed hungry children in 15 countries. Bush created the award more than two decades ago to encourage and highlight volunteer service.
The award's name comes from Bush's description in his 1989 inaugural address of his vision of Americans serving each other as "a thousand points of light."
During the award ceremony, Obama said the country is a better and stronger force in the world for good thanks to Bush's legacy of public service.
"I'm one of the millions of people inspired by your commitment," he said. "Your love of service has kindled a similar love around the world. ... We are surely a kinder and gentler nation because of you, and we can't thank you enough."
Bush, sitting to the left of Obama in a wheelchair, was joined by his wife and former first lady Barbara, their son Neil, and Michelle Nunn, CEO of the Points of Light organization that Bush founded. Nunn, the daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn, is a possible Democratic Senate candidate from Georgia.
The former president made only brief comments before handing the microphone over to Neil.
"My remarks are simply to say something nice about Neil, which is not hard to do because he's very active," Bush said, giving a special words of thanks to Obama and first lady Michelle Obama for hosting the ceremony. "This superb hospitality knows no bounds."
The Obamas and the Bushes had lunch in the Red Room before the ceremony.
The recipients of the 5,000th Point of Light Award are Floyd Hammer and Kathy Hamilton, a retired couple who owned a farm in Union, Iowa, for decades before founding Outreach, a nonprofit that delivers free meals to children suffering from hunger in more than 15 countries, including the U.S.
After Neil Bush introduced the couple, Kathy Hamilton recalled that their initial retirement plans of sailing around the world were interrupted when they traveled to Tanzania to build an HIV clinic in the third year of drought there. When they saw children dying of starvation, they were moved to do something about it.
"People all over the U.S. and Canada have helped us to pack a total of 232 million meals so far," she said. "We've seen time and time again, when people give of themselves -- when they share the burden -- life shines, love grows all over the world and here at home."
During the event, Obama announced the creation of a federal task force aimed at coming up with new ways for the public and private sectors to collaborate to support national service.