President-elect Donald Trump and President Obama pledged Thursday to work together after their first-ever meeting, starting the whirlwind transition that will unfold over the next 10 weeks until Trump is sworn into office on Jan. 20.
An hour-and-a-half after Trump entered the White House through the South Lawn entrance–avoiding news cameras and the eyes of the president’s staff–a group of reporters were ushered into the Oval Office, where the president and president-elect were seated in the high backed armchairs at the end of the room.
In a sign of how tensions between the two politicians have not disappeared in the immediate aftermath of the election, the White House did not arrange for the traditional photo-op between the current First Couple and the incoming one, a custom that George W. Bush and his wife Laura observed when the Obamas visited the White House in 2008. Melania Trump met separately with Michelle Obama.
Still, Trump told reporters Thursday that he expects to work closely with Obama now and in future to seek his advice in guiding the country. He noted that a session that was supposed to last 10 to 15 minutes went on for an hour-and-a-half.
“As far as I’m concerned it could have lasted a lot longer,” Trump said. “We discussed a lot of different situations, some wonderful and some difficulties. I very much look forward to dealing with the president in the future, including counsel.”
“Mr. President, it was a great honor being with you, and I look forward to being with many more time in the future,” he added, calling Obama “a very good man.”
Obama, for his part, said, “I have been very encouraged by the interest by the President-elect Trump’s wanting to work with my team around many of the issues that this great country faces. I believe that it is important for all regardless of party and regardless of political preferences to now come together, work together to deal with the many challenges we face.”
The president said that the men’s two wives had enjoyed spending time together Thursday morning.
“We want to make sure they feel welcome as they prepare to make this transition,” Obama said. “Most of all, I want to emphasize to you, Mr. President-elect, that we now are going to do everything we can to help you succeed because if you succeed, then the country succeeds.”
As the two leaders met White House chief of staff Denis McDonough gave a tour to Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and other aides, such as Dan Scavino, across the edge of the Rose Garden. Afterwards McDonough led Kushner on a walk down the South Lawn for nearly 20 minutes, at which point the two men rejoined Trump’s senior staff and reentered the White House.
A slew of journalists, including international reporters, milled about on the driveway leading to the West Wing ahead of Trump’s arrival. Some did live updates to their networks. Across West Executive Drive, dozens of White House staffers gathered on a steps in hopes of a glimpse.
This is the scene on the West Wing driveway right now. pic.twitter.com/KoLxqek8qo
— David Nakamura (@DavidNakamura) November 10, 2016
Obama has pledged his administration’s full cooperation with Trump’s transition team, citing the close working relationship he enjoyed with President George W. Bush during their transfer of power eight years ago.
The White House announced that Vice President-elect Mike Pence will meet with Vice President Biden in the afternoon.
“I have instructed my team to follow the example that President Bush’s team set eight years ago and work as hard as we can to make sure that this is a successful transition for the president-elect,” Obama said in the Rose Garden on Wednesday. The president said he called to congratulate Trump early Wednesday morning after news networks had formally announced Trump as the winner over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Obama had denounced Trump as “temperamentally unfit” for the White House during a long and brutal campaign. But he said that “we are now all rooting for his success in uniting and leading the country. The peaceful transition of power is one of the hallmarks of our democracy. And over the next few months, we are going to show that to the world.”
Trump, and Clinton, already had been receiving national-security briefings as the nominees of the two major political parties. The White House said Thursday that Obama has convened a coordinating council to facilitate a smooth transition, including providing briefings from federal agencies to Trump’s transition team, headed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R).
Officials from the Trump transition team are starting to set up shop in agencies across the federal government, where they can consult with top Obama officials as they assemble their staffs. The current White House has already begun to transfer a massive amount of information to the National Archives and Records Administration: so far it has sent 283 million files, comprising 122,000 gigabytes of data.
In an interview Wednesday, White House communications director Jennifer Psaki said the president has talked privately with his staff, as well as publicly, about putting institutional interests ahead of political ones.
Referring the speeches Obama delivered upon winning the presidency and at his first inaugural, she said, “He reflects a lot about the cog in the wheel that you are as president. He was taking the baton, he’s handing it off. But I think it’s a recognition that it’s bigger than individual aspirations and it’s bigger than yourself, and bigger than anything that you’ve accomplished. Because we as a country need to be stable, need to have continuity.”
The meeting between Obama and Trump will be their most extended conversation. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said he thought they had met one time previously, but he could not recall the venue. There is long-standing bad blood between the two, after Trump led a public campaign to try to force Obama to disclose his long-form birth certificate in 2011 over unfounded questions from some conservatives who thought the president was not born in the United States.
During the White House Correspondents’ Dinner that year, Obama lit into Trump, mocking him before a ballroom of 2,000 guests and on live television. During the campaign, Trump promised to repeal the president’s signature health-care law and overturn many of his executive actions. Obama said Trump was not to be trusted with the nation’s nuclear codes and represented an existential threat to democracy.
Obama sought to play down their differences and said Trump’s victory speech was magnanimous and set the right tone to help try to heal the nation’s political divisions that were exposed and inflamed over the past 15 months.
“They do not have an extensive personal relationship,” Earnest said Wednesday, drawing laughs from reporters. “This is not a situation where they’ve had many conversations or played golf together or any of that business. So I guess that will be among the many, many, many reasons that tomorrow’s meeting will be rather interesting.”
After his meeting with Trump, Obama will welcome another high profile visitor with his own large media contingent when Lebron James and the NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers arrive for a South Lawn ceremony with the president.