CNN Washington World News Actuality Presented By Claire Evren
President Barack Obama welcomed President-elect Donald Trump to the White House Thursday, as both men put past antagonisms aside in a time honored ritual epitomizing the peaceful transfer of political power.
Obama told his successor that he wanted him to succeed and would do everything he could to ensure a smooth transition. Trump called Obama a “very good man” and said he would seek his counsel in future.
The extraordinary meeting was a reflection of the swift and sudden change in the political mood between the frenzied last days of an election campaign and the reality of government and the transition of power between to administrations that follows.
“My No. 1 priority in the next two months is to try to facilitate a transition that ensures our President-elect is successful,” Obama said.
Obama told Trump: “If you succeed, the country succeeds,” as the two men sat in high-backed chairs in front of the fireplace in the Oval Office.
Trump thanked Obama for the meeting which he said had originally been scheduled for 10 minutes and went on for 90.
“Mr President, it was a great honor being with you and I look forward to being with you many, many more times,” Trump said, adding that he and Obama had spoken about some wonderful and difficult things and “some high-flying assets.”
It was not immediately clear about what he meant.
The President-elect also said he would seek “counsel” from Obama.
The meeting, and Trump’s stern demeanor, also underscored how the heavy burden of the presidency begins to settle on the shoulders of a president-elect. In Trump’s case, that process will be especially challenging giving that he will be the first president elected with not political, diplomatic or military executive experience.
It is also clear that Obama’s determination to facilitate a smooth and effective transition, like the one he was provided by outgoing President George W. Bush, is a reflection of his desire not to permit any animosity towards Trump from he or his staff that would detract from his own legacy in the final days of his presidency.
The temporary truce between the White House and Trump and his Republican Party however obscures the deep shock, and disquiet about Trump and his temperament inside the White House and among Democrats.
Still, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that given the history between them, the meeting between Obama and Trump in which they were alone in the Oval Office, was “a little less awkward” than might be expected and they did not recreate some kind of presidential debate during the talks over their stark political differences.
While Trump and Obama met, first lady Michelle Obama spent time with Trump’s wife, Melania.
Trump’s first visit to Washington began as the President-elect began around 10:30 a.m. when the plane emblazoned with his last name landed at Reagan National Airport, marking a new beginning for America.
Trump went to meet House Speaker Paul Ryan on Capitol Hill after the White House visit and will also see Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell while in town. Vice President-elect Mike Pence will meet Vice President Joe Biden.
While Trump and Obama were meeting, the billionaire’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and communications aide Hope Hicks met senior members of the White House staff.
Earnest said that Obama briefed Trump on his last foreign trip — to Greece, Germany and Peru next week — and that the President left the talks with “renewed confidence” that Trump was committed to a smooth transition.
Team Trump is already filled with Washington insiders
Trump’s transition team is staffed with long-time Washington experts and lobbyists from K Street, think tanks and political offices.
It’s a far cry from Trump’s campaign, which ended only Tuesday night, and message that he would “drain the swamp” in Washington. He has advocated congressional term limits and proposed a “five-point plan for ethics reform” that included strengthening restrictions on lobbying, including five-year bans for members and staff of the executive branch and Congress from lobbying, and expanding the definition of lobbyist to prevent more revolving door activity.
But he has so far fully embraced lobbyists within his transition, and all signs point to a heavy influence from longtime Washington Republican circles on his transition. And with Trump mostly skipping detailed policy proposals during his campaign, they can have a powerful impact on his agenda.
Leaders in his transition include former Rep. Mike Rogers, former Reagan Attorney General and Heritage Foundation fellow Edwin Meese, former President of Heritage Edwin Feulner, former Bush administration official and lobbyist Christine Ciccone, former Dick Cheney adviser Ado Machida, former Senate Budget Committee staffer Eric Ueland and former Sen. Jeff Sessions’ chief of staff Rick Dearborn. The effort is chaired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Trump counts former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Sessions as close advisers.
Lower level staffers assigned with crafting different departments are also heavily drawn from K Street, the center of lobbying in Washington, and congressional staff, according to a staff organizational chart obtained by CNN.
Sources close to the operation say Sessions and the conservative Heritage Foundation have had a strong role in shaping the transition, in addition to staffers from the Bush administration, K Street and Capitol Hill.
At a Heritage Foundation event Thursday, John Yoo, a Berkeley Law professor and scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, got a warm reception from the crowd by cracking about the closeness.
“I’m surprised there are so many people here because I thought everyone at Heritage was working over at transition headquarters,” Yoo said on the panel about Trump’s win. “I asked the taxi cab driver to take me to Trump transition headquarters and he dropped me off here, instead.”
The crowd let out an appreciative laugh.