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Bill Clinton at Obama White House: The two first black presidents meet

April 21, 2009 |  7:27 am

Former President Bill Clinton hosts Democratical presidential candidate Barack Obama at his Harlem office on Sept. 11, 2008

Former President Bill Clinton visits the Obama White House today, the first meeting of the two in the Oval Office since Barack Obama took office.

Once called the nation's first black president -- so dubbed by author Toni Morrison because of his obvious affection for and affinity with African-Americans -- Clinton lost the title last year. Twice.

First, he injected himself into wife Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, disparaging Barack Obama's impressive win in South Carolina by likening it to victories in that state in 1984 and 1988 by the Rev. Jesse Jackson. The subtext: a compelling black candidate can win in a state with lots of black voters but can't win a national contest. That angered a lot of black voters who once flocked to Hillary's campaign out of loyalty to her husband.

Secondly, of course, Obama won the election, beating Hillary in the primaries and handily defeating Republican John McCain in November.

Today the two meet in the Oval Office before President Obama signs the Edward M. Kennedy National Service Act into law at the SEED School in Washington.

The bill expands the legacy of President John F. Kennedy in launching the Peace Corps, a program that gives American volunteers an opportunity to help people in other countries, and of President Clinton in creating the "domestic Peace Corps" known as AmericaCorps. Under the new law, the cadre of government-backed volunteers could grow from 75,000 to 250,000 annually.

Aside from the encounter of the two first black presidents -- which the White House insists is more of a get-together than a meeting -- the event also promises another kind of drama.

Clinton  reportedly was furious when Kennedy broke with official Democratic orthodoxy -- which held that Hillary Clinton was the inevitable candidate -- and became an early backer of  Obama in  last year's grueling primary contests, more or less anointing him with the Camelot mantle.

Now, with Kennedy battling brain cancer, Clinton will have to rise to the occasion and bury the hatchet.

Check out the body language. The event's at 1 p.m. Pacific.

-- Johanna Neuman

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Photo credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images North America