WASHINGTON (AP) – Times sure have changed. On Monday, President Bush was using Nancy Pelosi as a laugh line in his campaign speeches. By Thursday, the joke was on him, and he was serving up her favorite food in his private dining room.

Now that Election Day turned Washington upside down and promoted Pelosi from mere leader of the minority Democrats in the House to the soon-to-be speaker in control of his Capitol Hill agenda, Bush pulled out all the stops.

On the menu for their make-nice luncheon at the White House: pasta salad, in tribute to her Italian heritage, and a dessert called “chocolate freedom,” in deference to her premier gastronomic passion. And for him? Just a little bit of crow.

“The elections are now behind us, and the congresswoman’s party won,” Bush said, the pair sitting side by side in the Oval Office afterward. “But the challenges still remain. And therefore, we’re going to work together to address those challenges in a constructive way.”

Leaning forward eagerly from the edge of their silk-upholstered seats, both the president and the woman whose party trounced his promised cooperation in a government that, come January, will be divided between a Republican White House and a Democratic Congress.

Bush piled on praise for Pelosi not only as Tuesday’s victor but as the first woman who will ascend to the position of House speaker, putting her third in line to the presidency.

Said Pelosi, like Bush all smiles: “We both extended the hand of friendship, of partnership to solve the problems facing our country.”

Bush extended that hand again later in the day, calling Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid to congratulate him on the Democrats’ takeover in the Senate as well. The switch in power in that chamber didn’t become clear until Wednesday night, when enough votes were counted to confirm the defeat of Virginia GOP Sen. George Allen. Reid, likely to be majority leader in the new Congress, was getting his own audience with Bush at the White House on Friday.

During the campaign, Bush accused Pelosi and the Democrats of being soft on terror and liberal on taxes, using her not only as a punching bag but as a laugh line. She called him names, like “dangerous” and “in denial,” as she and her party railed against what they said were mistakes and misinformation from Bush in a war in Iraq that has gone wrong.

And though the two sought to show they were putting the barbs in the past, they did not ignore that the differences that they debated so hotly before the voting still remain.

Pelosi has made clear that House Democrats will move immediately on their agenda, much of which is opposed by Bush.

which includes cutting student loan interest rates, funding embryonic stem cell research, authorizing the federal government to negotiate lower drug prices for Medicare patients and imposing a national cap on industrial carbon dioxide emissions.

She also has said that the election results mean Democrats not only want – but expect – Bush to make a change of direction in Iraq .

“I look forward to working in a confidence-building way with the president, recognizing that we have our differences and we will debate them,” Pelosi said carefully at the president’s side. “We’ve made history. Now we have to make progress.”

For his part, Bush has said that he’ll listen to all suggestions on Iraq, except for those that involve pulling troops out before the mission is complete. He also says he still wants congressional approval for war-on-terror tools that Democrats have vigorously questioned.

As Bush’s press secretary, Tony Snow, put it, echoing what Bush said a day earlier, the White House’s intention is to cooperate but “don’t trim back on your principles.”

With both just getting accustomed to entirely new roles in government, and with each other, Pelosi and Bush aides said it was more of a tone-setting session than a time for brass-tacks negotiating.

They talked briefly about Iraq, without exploring specific policy changes. They discussed at length the degenerating situation in Sudan’s violence-wracked Darfur region.

Pelosi told reporters later that she suggested targets for initial compromise that are favorite subjects of the president – increased production of alternative energy, an immigration policy overhaul and ways to make American workers more competitive in the global economy.

She said Bush did not raise the issue of getting his warrantless domestic eavesdropping program sanctioned by lawmakers. But, proclaiming that “you have to govern from the center,” she said agreement with the White House is possible.

Both have much to lose if they do not find agreement somewhere.

Democrats are getting a chance to control Capitol Hill, and they believe voters could take that privilege away in two years if they don’t use it well.

Bush, meanwhile, will lead with a Congress entirely in the other party’s hands for the first time in his presidency. It could have him reaching back to his experience as governor of Texas, when he cultivated friendships with top Democrats in the state Legislature – and to his 2000 campaign promise to be a “uniter not a divider.”

Before Tuesday’s election, Bush and his aides were asked repeatedly if they could work with a Speaker Pelosi, or even whether they were preparing for such an eventuality. They refused to answer. “That’s not going to happen,” Bush once snapped to an interviewer.

But times have changed and so has the White House’s reply. Said White House counselor Dan Bartlett: “We’re definitely going to try.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.