Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton enjoy a friendly visit at the White House

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- One has been described as a tough political insider who is fiercely protective of her husband's interests; the other has gained a reputation as a warm friend and devoted mother.

Both descriptions fit Hillary Clinton and both fit Barbara Bush. Yesterday, the two women met at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to search for other common ground.


The occasion was a tour of the White House for its new resident, Mrs. Clinton. As part of this week's ceremonies involving rituals of transferring power, the two women stepped delicately into the footprints their husbands left on the White House lawn on Wednesday. They brushed cheeks, greeted each other warmly and went inside to talk.

"Avoid this crowd like the plague," Mrs. Bush said only half-jokingly as she gestured at the reporters and photographers gathered to record the meeting.


"And if they quote you, make damn sure they heard you," she said.

Mrs. Clinton, whose verbal miscues, including an ill-received remark that she chose to work outside the home instead of staying home to "bake cookies and have tea," burst out laughing.

"I know that feeling already," Mrs. Clinton said.

For all their bonhomie yesterday, Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Bush would seem to have little more in common beyond their decision to marry ambitious politicians. The 67-year-old Mrs. Bush, who has 5 children and 12 grandchildren, has never worked outside the home. Mrs. Clinton, 45, is a prominent lawyer with a 12-year-old daughter, Chelsea, who is in junior high school.

The two women were never overtly harsh toward each other on the campaign trail. Mrs. Clinton had tactfully told an interviewer that she planned to take a "more comprehensive approach" to the job of being the wife of the president than Mrs. Bush had.

"I think you have to match your voice with your actions," she told The Sun.

And Mrs. Bush, who once let slip a remark comparing Geraldine A. Ferraro, who debated Mr. Bush in 1984 as the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, to "I can't say it, but it rhymes with rich," has generally been courteous about Mrs. Clinton. When Republican leaders began attacking Mrs. Clinton at their national convention in August, Mrs. Bush said, "I don't square it, and I don't like it."

When Mrs. Clinton moves into the White House, which has historic bedrooms and thousands of square feet full of antiques and priceless art, it will be a far cry from the two-bedroom home she has occupied for 12 years, the modest governor's mansion in Little Rock, Ark., that barely accommodates overnight guests.


Press secretaries to both women said the meeting was friendly.

"They held hands like young girls," said Anna Perez, the press secretary to Mrs. Bush.

When Bill Clinton came to Capitol Hill to meet with congressional leaders in April, the greeting was polite, not warm.