April 25, 2010, 3:00 pm Obama Visits the Rev. Billy Graham
By PETER BAKER
MONTREAT, N.C. – President Obama
ventured to the mountaintop on Sunday to visit the Rev. Billy Graham
, becoming the 12th commander in chief to meet the famed pastor to the presidents.
“Reverend Graham has obviously been an important spiritual leader for past presidents and for the American people for decades,” said Bill Burton, a White House spokesman. “He’s a real treasure for our country. The president appreciates the opportunity to visit him at his home.”
Mr. Obama brought his motorcade to Mr. Graham’s log cabin home on the way to the airport after a weekend break in nearby Asheville with his wife, Michelle
, and several Chicago friends. The two met for about a half hour in private, without news cameras, but Mr. Burton said they “had a private prayer.”
The visit came at an awkward moment. The military last week rescinded an invitation to Mr. Graham’s son, Rev. Franklin Graham
, to lead a prayer service at the Pentagon on the National Day of Prayer on May 6, citing his comments about Islam. The younger Mr. Graham has called Islam evil and offensive. Mr. Burton said the younger Mr. Graham was present during the meeting with the president but did not say whether the topic of the canceled invitation came up.
The elder Mr. Graham, 91, has remained largely out of sight in recent years as he ages but met or ministered to every president since Harry S Truman
. Mr. Obama first tried to meet him when visiting the state in 2008 for the presidential campaign, but Mr. Graham was not able to see him. When Mr. Obama called him last November to wish him a happy birthday, they renewed their discussion of a meeting, and when the president decided to take a break here this weekend, the White House called to request a stop.
Mr. Obama is the first sitting president to actually come to Mr. Graham’s home here nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains
. After the meeting, the president headed to the airport to fly to Beckley, W.Va., where he will deliver a eulogy at a memorial service for 29 coal
miners killed in an explosion earlier this month. The first lady is flying home to Washington separately.