Former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton called for unity when they addressed the nation in a rare joint video during the 2021 Presidential Inauguration TV special.
On Wednesday, Jan. 20, the three politicians taped an intimate conversation at the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. At the time, they were waiting for President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to arrive, before placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the traditional ceremony.
The reunion, which sources described to NBC News as a “free-flowing conversation,” then aired in the evening during Tom Hanks‘ Inauguration Day special, dubbed Celebrating America. Presidential aides said the talk focused on “the majesty of the passage of power, importance of upholding democracy and staying civically engaged.”
The presidents praised Biden’s leadership qualities and spoke of the need to unite the country during what Clinton called an “unusual” time.
Obama started off by saying, “Obviously, there was a personal element to see my former vice president become the 46th president, to see Kamala Harris as our first woman vice president, but more broadly, I think inaugurations signal a tradition of a peaceful transfer of power that is over two centuries old.”
Bush responded, “The fact that the three of us are standing here talking about a peaceful transfer of power speaks to the institutional integrity of our country.”
Obama then reflected on one of his “fondest memories” from his own Inauguration Day, which was experiencing “the grace and generosity” of the Bush family during the transition. “It was a reminder that we can have fierce disagreements and yet recognize each other’s common humanity,” the father of two said.
Clinton noted, “It’s a new beginning. And everybody needs to get off their high horse and reach out to their friends and neighbors and try to make it possible.”
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The leaders ended by wishing Biden well and saying they were cheering him on. As Bush put it, “All three of us were lucky to be the president of this country. Mr. President, I’m pulling for your success. Your success is our country’s success.” Clinton added, “You have spoken for us today. Now you will lead for us. And we’re ready to march with you.”
On a more personal note, Obama got to pass the metaphorical torch onto Biden, his former VP. “Joe, I’m proud of you. And you and Kamala need to know that you’ve got all of us here rooting for your success,” the A Promised Land author concluded. “We wish you Godspeed.”
At the end of the clip, Hanks commented on the power of their rare reunion, saying, “When our former presidents unite like that, much of the rest of the world must marvel at what America is. At what Americans can do.”
Of course, it wasn’t the only atypical moment from the 2021 Presidential Inauguration. Though Obama, Bush and Clinton all attended, former Presidents Donald Trump and Jimmy Carter were absent. Guests were limited due to the coronavirus pandemic, and masks dominated when it came to inaugural fashion.
It was also a historic day for Harris, as the first woman, Black person and Asian-American person sworn in as vice president.
The TV special closed out Wednesday’s celebrations with lively performances from Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake, Demi Lovato, Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, the Foo Fighters and John Legend.
Stars including Kerry Washington (Little Fires Everywhere) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) also reflected on the monumental day during Celebrating America, which aired at 8:30 p.m. EST.
Here’s everything else that went down at the 2021 Presidential Inauguration, from Lady Gaga‘s olive branch performance to all the best fashion statements at the Capitol.