Heard on the Hill

Statuary Lunch Hall a Model of Make-Nice Decorum

After fiery campaign and inaugural speech

A U.S. Capitol Police officer takes a photo as a Marine helicopter carrying former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama lifts off from the East Plaza of the U.S. Capitol following the swearing in of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

After former President Barack Obama took off on a military chopper from the East Front of the Capitol, President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence joined congressional leaders and other dignitaries for one of Inauguration Day’s more intimate moments, far from the crowds.

At the traditional luncheon in Statuary Hall honoring the new president, attendees at the event — one of the hottest tickets in town — feasted on lobster and steak, with pairings of California wines.

Sen. Roy Blunt, the chairman of the joint congressional inaugural committee, touted the wares of his home state of Missouri and spoke again about the history of Statuary Hall, the former chamber of the House of Representatives.

During the lunch itself, which was off camera, Trump and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer had a lengthy, animated conversation. Both were seated at the head table.

Earlier in the lunch, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took the seat Blunt was in to have a conversation with Trump, in which the Kentucky Republican spent most of the about 15 minutes doing the talking to the chief executive.

Like just about any wedding, the seating chart provided for some unusual tables. Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson was in the room, joining former Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and Trump campaign manager KellyAnne Conway at a table toward the rear.

In another nod to the peaceful transition of power, former President Bill Clinton and the woman Trump defeated in 2016, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, sat toward the front with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas and Steven Mnuchin, the financier nominated to be Trump’s Treasury Secretary.

Cornyn said after the lunch that he congratulated the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee and congratulated her for “showing some real class.”

Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin was with Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s nominee to be attorney general. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, one of the new president’s stalwarts during the 2016 campaign, was positioned next to Connecticut Democratic Rep. Rosa Delauro.

Just before the luncheon, Trump and wife Melania accompanied the Obamas to a presidential helicopter parked near the Capitol’s East Front. The new and former presidents shook hands and exchanged brief goodbyes.

Obama gave a final wave to the District of Columbia as the helicopter, dubbed “Executive One,” lifted off and headed over the Senate side of the Capitol, bound for Joint Base Andrews in suburban Maryland.

Boehner told Roll Call he preferred to “just stand here and chill” rather than comment on Trump’s inaugural address. He then, with a chuckle, lit a cigarette on the stairs of the House carriage entrance seconds after the Obamas’ aircraft disappeared.

After a short flight, the Obamas hugged Air Force attendants on the tarmac of the military base before entering a hangar filled with former White House staffers.

“All of you came together in small towns and big cities, a whole bunch of you really young, and you decided to believe. And you knocked on doors, and you made phone calls, and you talked to your parents — who didn’t know how to pronounce Barack Obama,” the 44th president said. “It turned out you had something in common. And it grew, and it built, and people took notice. And, throughout, it was infused with a sense of hope.”

Obama said he and the former first lady were merely the administration’s “front man and woman,” adding their efforts were “never about us.”

“Our democracy is not the monuments, it’s not the buildings,” Obama said. “It’s you. … That doesn’t end. This is just a little pit stop. This is not a period, this is a comma in the continuing story.”

The Obamas spent about 30 minutes sharing hugs and final words with their former senior aides, then climbed the stairs of the presidential jet one final time, giving a wave before entering for a flight to Palm Beach, Calif.

The former president talked throughout his final year of promising to take his wife on a “long” vacation. Just this week, he told reporters of a need to “process” the last eight years.

Meanwhile, in one of his first actions as president, Trump sat behind a desk and signed a bill that allows retired Marine Gen. James Mattis to serve as Defense secretary before a seven-year cooling off period for former generals expires. He also signed paperwork formally nominating his Cabinet picks.

Among the first speakers upon Trump’s arrival at the lunch was the Senate Chaplain, retired Adm. Barry Black.

Black, as if often the case, offered some of the post poignant words within the Capitol’s walls, in his opening prayer for the new president.

“We remember that those who would leave a legacy of greatness must strive to become servants of all. Lord, inspire our president to perform his God-appointed duties with such reverence for you that his tenure will be like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, like a rainbow after a storm and like the singing of the birds at dawn,” said Black.

-- John T. Bennett contributed to this story

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