CHARLOTTE — President Obama on Sunday became the 12th president to meet with Billy Graham, and the first sitting one to visit Graham's mountaintop home in Montreat, N.C.
In a meeting that lasted about 30 minutes, the president and the 91-year-old preacher prayed for each other, talked about Chicago — a city that helped launch both their careers — and took a tour of Graham's homestead, which was designed by his late wife, Ruth. Graham gave Obama two Bibles: one for him, one for the first lady.
"Daddy reminisced a little bit about the first time he met a president, Truman," reported Graham's son, Franklin, who also attended the get-together. "My father told the president that he stays out of politics (now). And the president said, 'I wish I could.' "
Obama confided, like other presidents before him, how lonely, demanding and humbling the presidency can be, said Billy Graham spokesman Larry Ross.
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The conversation over coffee also touched on the upcoming National Day of Prayer, which has been embroiled in controversy this year. First, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb in Wisconsin ruled that observance of the May 6 event, proclaimed by every president since Harry Truman, is unconstitutional.
And, days ago, the Pentagon disinvited Franklin Graham — an honorary co-chair of this year's event — to speak there because of his past comments disparaging Islam.
At Sunday's meeting in Montreat, "I thanked (Obama) for appealing Judge Crabb's decision," said Franklin Graham, who had written a letter to the White House asking for Obama to oppose and appeal the ruling.
The younger Graham also said the Pentagon's decision to disinvite him also came up.
"He was going to look into it," Graham reported.
Did that mean there was a chance he would be re-invited?
"Well, you don't know," Graham said. "He is the commander-in-chief."
The president, who has been vacationing this weekend with the first lady in nearby Asheville, N.C., visited Billy Graham on his way out of town, to give the eulogy in West Virginia for miners who died in a recent explosion.
Michelle Obama did not make the trip to Graham's homestead; the president was accompanied by Joshua DuBois, his religious affairs adviser.
Last November, Obama called the evangelist from Air Force One to wish him a happy birthday and say he'd like to come visit. Graham gave Obama a passage in Proverbs to read.
Graham, whose hearing and eyesight is faltering, was for decades a pastor to presidents and a frequent guest at the White House.
Franklin Graham said his father had no trouble hearing the president during the meeting.
"The president talks fairly loud," Graham said.
"He's a very friendly, a very gracious person," Graham said of Obama. "My father felt good.... He didn't get back home from Charlotte (where he attended the reopening of the Billy Graham Library) until last night. So he was somewhat tired. But (Obama) communicated very well with my father."
Though Graham is retired, he is still one of the most admired Americans, according to annual Gallup polls, and a photo with him is still something politicians and presidents are eager to get and release to the public.
Last November, Sarah Palin, the GOP's 2008 vice presidential candidate and a possible presidential contender in 2012, visited Graham at Montreat.
Richard Nixon visited Graham's home, but he was vice president when he did so.