The three former presidents spoke from the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery, where on Wednesday they joined the new president for a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“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,” Obama said. “But, more broadly, I think inaugurations signal a tradition of a peaceful transfer of power that is over two centuries old.”
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Bush added that "the fact that three of us are standing here talking about a peaceful transfer of power speaks to the institutional integrity of our country."
Clinton noted the challenging times the country faces, a theme Biden touched on in his inaugural address.
“We are both trying to come back to normalcy, deal with totally abnormal challenges and do what we do best, which is try to make a more perfect union," Clinton said. "It’s (an) exciting time.”
Obama — who earlier in the day tweeted his congratulations to Biden, telling him, "This is your time" — also spoke of the importance of listening to people who don’t share our opinions.
He also talked about the “grace and generosity” that President Bush and his wife, Laura, showed him when he took office.
“It was a reminder that we can have fierce disagreements and yet recognize each other’s common humanity, and that as Americans, we have more in common than what separates us,” Obama said.
Clinton said the day marked “a new beginning.”
Biden comes into office at a crossroads, faced with addressing the coronavirus and divisions among citizens that were crystallized earlier this month during the Capitol riot, which all three former presidents condemned.
Obama said he, Clinton and Bush remain optimistic that the country came come together.
“I think all of us discovered that we’re at our best when we’re moving in the same direction,” he said.
The three men, who had not been seen publicly together since last year's funeral for Rep. John Lewis, wrapped up by expressing their support for Biden as he begins life in the Oval Office.
“Mr. President, I'm pulling for your success. Your success is our country's success, and God bless you,” Bush said.
"Joe, I'm proud of you," Obama added. "And you and Kamala need to know that you've got all of us here rooting for your success, keeping you in our prayers."