ABOVE CARTOON: Steve Sack, The Minneapolis Star Tribune
By Julie Pace
WASHINGTON — In a cordial beginning to their transfer of power, President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump met at the White House Thursday. Obama called the 90-minute meeting “excellent,” and his successor said he looked forward to receiving the outgoing president’s “counsel.”
At the close of the Oval Office sit-down, Obama said to Trump, “We now are going to want to do everything we can to help you succeed, because if you succeed the country succeeds.”
The two men, who have been harshly critical of each other for years, were meeting for the first time, Trump said. The Republican called Obama a “very good man” and said he looked forward “to dealing with the president in the future, including counsel.”
Obama blasted Trump throughout the campaign as unfit to serve as a commander in chief. Trump spent years challenging the legitimacy of Obama’s presidency, falsely suggesting Obama may have been born outside the United States.
But at least publicly, the two men appeared to put aside their animosity. As the meeting concluded and journalists scrambled out of the Oval Office, Obama smiled at his successor and explained the unfolding scene.
From the White House, Trump headed to Capitol Hill for meetings with House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to discuss the GOP legislative agenda. Ryan, who holds the most powerful post in Congress, was a sometime critic of Trump, was slow to endorse him and did not campaign with the nominee.
Emerging from his meetings with congressional leaders, Trump sketched out priorities for his presidency.
“We’re going to move very strongly on immigration,” he said. “We will move very strongly on health care. And we’re looking at jobs. Big league jobs.”
If Trump makes good on his campaign promises, he’ll wipe away much of what Obama has done during his eight years in office. The Republican president-elect, who will govern with Congress fully under GOP control, has vowed to repeal Obama’s signature health care law and dismantle the landmark nuclear accord with Iran. He’s also vowed to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
First lady Michelle Obama also met privately in the White House residence with Trump’s wife, Melania, while Vice President Joe Biden prepared to see Vice President-elect Mike Pence later Thursday.
Obama and Trump met alone, without any staff present, White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters afterward.
“The two men did not relitigate their differences in the Oval Office,” Earnest said. “We’re on to the next phase.”
Trump traveled to Washington from New York on his private jet, breaking with protocol by not bringing journalists in his motorcade or on his plane to document his historic visit to the White House. Trump was harshly critical of the media during his campaign, and for a time banned news organizations whose coverage he disliked from his events.
As scores of journalists waited to be admitted to the Oval Office to see Obama and Trump together, they saw White House chief of staff Denis McDonough walking along the South Lawn driveway with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law. A handful of Trump aides trailed them.
The show of civility at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue contrasted with postelection scenes of protests across a politically divided country. Demonstrators from New England to the heartland and the West Coast vented against the election winner on Wednesday, chanting “Not my president,” burning a papier-mache Trump head, beating a Trump pinata and carrying signs that said “Impeach Trump.”
In Washington, Trump’s scant transition team sprang into action, culling through personnel lists for top jobs and working through handover plans for government agencies. A person familiar with the transition operations said the personnel process was still in its early stages, but Trump’s team was putting a premium on quickly filling key national security posts. The person was not authorized to discuss details by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.
According to an organizational chart for the transition obtained by The Associated Press, Trump was relying on experienced hands to help form his administration. National security planning was being led by former Michigan Rep. Mike Rogers, who previously worked for the FBI. Domestic issues were being handled by Ken Blackwell, a former Cincinnati mayor and Ohio secretary of state.
Trump was expected to consider several loyal supporters for top jobs, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani for attorney general or national security adviser and campaign finance chairman Steve Mnuchin for Treasury secretary. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker were also expected to be under consideration for foreign policy posts.
As president-elect, Trump is entitled to get the same daily intelligence briefing as Obama – one that includes information on U.S. covert operations, information gleaned about world leaders and other data gathered by America’s 17 intelligence agencies. The White House said it would organize two exercises involving multiple agencies to help Trump’s team learn how to respond to major domestic incidents.