President-elect Donald Trump and President Obama pledged today to work together after their first-ever meeting, starting a whirlwind transition over the next 10 weeks until Trump is sworn in Jan. 20.
An hour and a-half later 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 today 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 noted that the men’s two wives had enjoyed spending time together this 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.
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.”
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.
(c) 2016 The Washington Post – David Nakamura and Juliet Eilperin