Trump Visits Oval Office to Discuss Transition

Trump Visits Oval Office to Discuss Transition
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President-elect Donald Trump, readying plans to take the reins as the nation’s 45th president, conferred with President Obama Thursday about the particulars of White House organization and matters of state during an Oval Office meeting that lasted 90 minutes. 

“I have been very encouraged,” Obama told a pool of journalists, noting Trump’s expressed interest in working with the administration in preparation for “many of the issues that this great country faces.”

During the first-ever meeting between the two political antagonists, their rhetoric was long on a shared love of country and a mutual commitment to segue from a Democratic administration to a Republican-led government as seamlessly as possible on Jan. 20.

Trump, leaning forward in his chair and seated to Obama’s right, commended the president as “a very good man,” noting that he initially envisioned, before flying from New York to Washington, that his visit with Obama would last minutes rather than more than an hour. They found plenty to discuss, including domestic and international issues, although the president’s spokesman said the president did not expect to reconcile long-standing disagreements with the businessman during their discussion.

Trump, who for years fueled the false so-called birther movement, which challenged whether Obama was born in the United States, previously said Obama was “the worst president, maybe in the history of our country.”

In turn, the president, during campaign speeches supporting Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, said Trump was temperamentally dangerous and “uniquely unqualified to be commander-in-chief.” 

But little more than a day after the real estate mogul stunned half the electorate with his Electoral College victory, Trump found himself escorted in celebrity fashion through Washington’s renowned corridors of power. In 10 weeks, he will be in charge of the executive branch, turning for help to the Republicans who continue to control the House and Senate.

Accompanied by future first lady Melania Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence, Trump also went to the U.S. Capitol and saw where throngs of people will fill acres of the mall to witness the oath of office on Inauguration Day.

And Trump’s tour guide for that preview? It was House Speaker Paul Ryan, who also hosted a lengthy lunch for Trump and Pence, minus aides. The Wisconsin congressman several weeks ago said he was “sickened” by Trump’s rhetoric, recorded during a taping of “Access Hollywood,” in which the reality TV star boasted about groping women.

In response, Trump tweeted that the speaker was a “very weak and ineffective leader.”

But that was then.

After Thursday’s meeting, an upbeat Trump and Ryan said they were anxious to start working together, though there were few details on what they discussed and which policy proposals from Trump, or congressional Republicans, would take precedence come January.

Trump also met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at the senator’s office in the Capitol, also with no aides present. Few details were available from that meeting, though Trump did pause to take several brief questions from the press before leaving the Capitol.

Trump said his priorities upon entering office would be immigration — particularly border security — health care, and jobs, though he didn’t offer specifics.

Asked by a reporter if Trump would ask Congress to ban Muslims from entering the country — a controversial campaign proposal — the president-elect said, “Thank you, everyone,” and walked away.

Thursday was supposed to be an antidote of sorts to a supremely long and poisonous campaign that has not concluded in the minds of some Americans. Protesters in U.S. cities including New York demonstrated Wednesday night with chants of “not my president” and anti-Trump signs.

The president-elect gave no indication that he noticed.

“I look forward to being with you many, many more times in the future,” the magnanimous Trump assured Obama on Thursday, noting his appreciation for the president’s “counsel.”

Obama, appearing polite and serious as he shook Trump’s hand, told the president-elect, “We now are going to want to do everything we can to help you succeed, because if you succeed, then the country succeeds.”

Outside the Oval Office, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, took a walk around the South Lawn with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. Kushner is married to Ivanka Trump and is a trusted adviser and intermediary for the 70-year-old Trump, who has been encouraged to get a fast start with experienced appointments of a White House team and picks for a handful of the most important Cabinet posts, ready for Senate confirmation hearings early next year.

McDonough, following contemporary custom, on Monday requested that political, non-civil-service appointees in the administration submit resignations within the next several weeks, effective by Jan. 20, said Andrew Mayock, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget. Mayock, speaking Thursday at a transition forum sponsored by the National Academy of Public Administration, said the goal is to minimize challenges for the next administration.

Also traveling with Trump were spokeswoman Hope Hicks, who met Thursday morning with Obama’s White House communications director, Jen Psaki, and her deputy. Also seen with the president-elect’s team was senior adviser Dan Scavino Jr., who tweeted a photo of the Trumps standing with Ryan on his Capitol balcony, as well as a Twitter appraisal of the White House visit:

While Trump discussed world affairs and West Wing organization with Obama in the Oval Office, Michelle Obama offered Melania Trump a tour of the private White House residence, the state floor, and the spectacular view of the monuments from the Truman Balcony. The two couples reconnected in the Oval Office after noon, but did not pose for an official White House group photograph, which used to be a modern-era custom.

Later in the afternoon, Vice President Joe Biden met at the White House with Pence. The meeting was closed to the press.

Trump and his team have bucked custom and protocol by not allowing coverage of the president-elect by a rotation of a small group of journalists known as a “pool.” The Fourth Estate, which by custom and modern necessity reports on incoming presidents via a pool-rotation system, was rebuffed by Team Trump on Thursday. The White House Correspondents Association and its members pressed the Trump aides to adopt the pool-coverage system immediately as a part of the official transition to governing.

Trump prides himself on his famously testy relationship with the news media. He flew to and from Washington Thursday on his private jet, declining to travel with members of the news media as presidents always do.

Trump and Pence telephoned world leaders Thursday, but information from the president-elect’s team about those calls was sparse. The office of Prime Minister Theresa May of the United Kingdom issued a written statement describing her conversation with Trump, including his invitation to visit the White House “as soon as possible.” Journalists pointed out to Trump’s aides that the American people were learning more about the next president and his potential government officials from other countries than from the president-elect. 

Trump, Melania and his children and family members will discuss Trump’s stunning election victory during Sunday night’s “60 Minutes,” broadcast on CBS News.

It remained unclear when Trump would return to Washington, although White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest answered “Of course” when asked if Obama was open to future meetings with Trump before or after he leaves office.

Trump’s transition advisers are operating in secure space near the White House operated by the General Services Administration. The new administration is expected to name at least 4,000 federal employees to fill out the executive branch, of which about 1,000 will require Senate confirmation. White House appointees do not require congressional approval, but many will require FBI security clearances and special U.S. Secret Service clearances before assuming their duties. 

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com.  Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

James Arkin is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at jarkin@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesArkin.

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