Donald Trump burst onto the political scene by questioning whether President Barack Obama was born in the United States, but on Thursday, the unlikely president-elect called him “a very good man” whose “counsel” he will seek once in office.
There were no signs of the bombastic candidate following a 90-minute private Oval Office meeting, with Trump saying he has “respect” for an outgoing president he harshly criticized on the campaign trail. It was the first time the current and future presidents had ever met, Trump said.
During a meeting later in the day at the Capitol with a top Republican lawmaker, Trump told reporters he is eager to get to work on lowering taxes, overhauling immigration policy, and addressing the Obama administration’s signature health care law. With questions about Trump’s governing ideology lingering, those traditional Republican policies offer clues about his initial plans.
Oddly, at the White House, Trump told reporters the two discussed “some of the really great things” Obama has accomplished as president. The president-elect noted they discussed some issues that feature “difficulties,” but he did not mention specific policy issues.
On Thursday night, back in Trump Tower after not informing the press of his D.C.-to-New York return trek, the president-elect took to Twitter: “A fantastic day in D.C. Met with President Obama for first time. Really good meeting, great chemistry. Melania liked Mrs. O a lot!” (Trump also tweeted criticism of some who are staging protests over his election win and blamed the media for inciting the demonstrations.)
Both men described the meeting as cordial, with the president-elect saying he has “great respect” for Obama and noting that what was supposed to be a 15-minute meeting lasted 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.”
He even said he looked forward to seeking Obama’s “counsel” at times, a striking change from his campaign-trail depiction of Obama and other Washington leaders as “stupid.”
“Mr. President, it was a great honor being with you and I look forward to being with you many more times in the future,” Trump said, again in a much different tone from his stump speeches.
Though the meeting was civil and Obama again made clear he wants to ensure the president-elect and his team are ready to go on Day One, Obama’s top spokesman later told reporters the president stands by his campaign-trail depiction of Trump as unfit for the office.
The length of the meeting fueled speculation that Obama had something of a pitch prepared for his successor. To that end, candidate Trump had vowed to erase much of Obama’s legacy almost immediately after taking office on Jan. 20.
The meeting presented a striking image less than 48 hours after Trump shocked the country — and the world — by handily defeating Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College.
Seated beside one another in the Oval Office were a president who overhauled health insurance, offered protections for some undocumented immigrants, reached a nuclear deal with Iran, and struck a carbon emissions-reduction pact with other countries, and a president-elect who has vowed to undo most of it.
Obama spoke first, saying they discussed “organizational issues [about] setting up the White House,” adding they also talked about foreign policy and domestic policy matters.
“As I said last night, my number one priority in the next coming two months is to try to facilitate a transition that ensures our president-elect is successful and I have been very encouraged by the interest, by President-elect Trump’s wanting to work with my team around many of the issues that this great country faces,” Obama said. “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.”
Unlike when President-elect Obama met with his predecessor, George W. Bush, there was no media pool traveling with the incoming chief executive. What’s more, media members were not present when Trump and his wife arrived and were greeted by the Obamas.
Instead, the Trump motorcade arrived on the south side of the White House, out of sight of journalists and their cameras.
In a light moment, as reporters were being escorted out of the Oval Office, Obama gave Trump some advice, telling him to never answer shouted questions. (Later at the Capitol, however, Trump did just that.)
Hours before the meeting, the White House sent out a lengthy fact sheet detailing efforts it launched months ago to ensure a smooth transition, no matter which candidate won. White House officials, led by Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, have been meeting with representatives of both campaigns to discuss the power handoff process.
Obama earlier this year made the transition one of his top 2016 priorities, which stems from how impressed he was with how Bush and his administration ran the handover to Obama.
The meeting came one day after Obama appeared in the Rose Garden to tell reporters he is “rooting” for the former reality television star’s “success” in the Oval Office.
An orderly handoff of power from one president to another is a “hallmark” of the American system, Obama said Wednesday, adding, “we’re going to show that to the world.”
After meeting with Obama, Trump traveled down Pennsylvania Avenue for separate meetings with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Vice President-elect Mike Pence joined Trump for the congressional meetings.
Trump vowed “we are going to absolutely spectacular things for the American people and I look forward to starting,” adding “quite frankly, we can’t get started fast enough.”
Unlike at the White House, Trump did talk specifics when reporters were allowed into his meeting with the speaker.
“We’re going to lower taxes — so many different things we are going to be working on,” the president-elect said. “We are going to do a real job on healthcare.” Immigration also was a topic.
Trump and Pence first met with Ryan over lunch at the Capitol Hill Club. After dining and chatting for nearly an hour, they headed to Ryan’s office on the second floor of the Capitol. The speaker showed the incoming administration his balcony view of the West Front of the Capitol, where Trump and Pence will be sworn in on Jan. 20.
“Donald Trump had one of the most impressive victories we have ever seen and we’re going to turn that victory into progress for the American people,” Ryan told reporters, “and we are now talking about how we are going to hit the ground running to get this country turned around and make America great again.”
Trump’s arrival at the speaker’s ceremonial office appeared unexpected by Capitol Police, who swiftly moved to block off areas outside Ryan’s office for the press to catch a glimpse of Trump.
The speaker’s office aired the balcony interaction on Facebook live. In the video, Ryan pointed out the amphitheater that had been built for the inauguration ceremony and where bleachers and cameras would be placed.
“It’s going to be a whole lot colder than this,” Ryan joked about the January chills that usually make Inauguration Day an uncomfortable experience.
Ryan also pointed out his somewhat obstructed view of the White House, saying, “The trees by the Treasury Department, the trees are the White House.”
Most of what Trump said during the interaction was inaudible on the video, except his remark as he exited the balcony: “This is so beautiful.”
After a brief visit to the Speaker’s Balcony, Trump headed to Senate side of the Capitol, working his way through the Crypt with a sizable entourage in tow. He was greeted by Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Frank J. Larkin and staff before heading upstairs to McConnell’s office.
After his meeting with McConnell, the incoming GOP president said he has “really great priorities,” adding “people will be very very happy.”
“We’re going to look very strongly at immigration and we’re going to look at [the] border,” Trump said, adding that they would also look at health care issues and, “we’re looking at jobs — big league jobs.”
Later in the afternoon, Pence was headed to the other end of Pennsylvania Ave. for a meeting with the man he will replace, Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
— Lindsey McPherson, Bridget Bowman and Niels Lesniewski contributed.