WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump met on Thursday for the first time, setting aside the deep rancor that dominated the long campaign season as they discussed the transition to the Republican’s inauguration on Jan. 20.
Their 90-minute meeting in the White House Oval Office, with no aides present, took place just two days after Trump’s stunning election defeat of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Obama, who vigorously campaigned for his fellow Democrat to succeed him, had repeatedly called Trump unfit for the president’s office, while the businessman had often denounced Obama’s eight-year tenure as a “disaster.”
But in separate post-election remarks on Wednesday both men appeared to seek to help the country heal from a bitterly divisive campaign, and that tone continued into the White House meeting.
Seated next to Obama after their talks, Trump told reporters: “We really discussed a lot of situations, some wonderful, some difficulties.” He said Obama explained “some of the really great things that have been achieved,” but did not elaborate.
“It was a great honor being with you and I look forward to being with you many, many more times in the future,” Trump said, with a tone of deference.
Amid the flurry of meetings, demonstrations against Trump broke out across the country for the second day. Security fences were erected around Trump’s new hotel in Washington, just blocks from the White House, and around New York’s Trump Tower as students protested his election.
Obama and Trump, a real estate magnate who has never held political office, discussed a range of domestic and foreign policy issues and details related to the transition period.
“The meeting might have been at least a little less awkward than some might have expected,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.
Obama offered assistance to Trump over the next couple months, and urged the country to unite to face its challenges.
“We now are going to want to do everything we can to help you succeed because if you succeed, then the country succeeds,” Obama said at the end of the meeting.
Their relaxed, cordial demeanor in front of the cameras was in stark contrast to the months of harsh rhetoric during the campaign.
Trump used Obama as a punching bag during his campaign speeches, repeatedly attacking the president’s policies from healthcare to an Iran nuclear deal. Both Obama and first lady Michelle Obama attacked Trump as temperamentally unfit for the White House and dangerously unprepared to have access to U.S. nuclear codes.
Asked at a White House briefing on Thursday whether the meeting had eased any of the concerns about Trump that Obama expressed during the campaign, Earnest said, “The president was never in a position to choose a successor. The American people chose his successor.”
ON THE HILL
On leaving the White House, Trump traveled to Capitol Hill for meetings with Republican congressional leaders. He and Republican House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan also put aside their differences, which kept the two from campaigning with each other over the past few months.
Trump emerged from that meeting to tell reporters, “We’re going to lower taxes as you know,” and “We’re going to fix healthcare and make it more affordable and better.”
Ryan took Trump to the Speaker’s Balcony in the Capitol to show him where construction is underway on a stage for Trump’s Jan. 20 swearing-in ceremony.
In a possible early pivot by Trump, controversial campaign proposals, including his call to ban Muslims from entering the United States, have been removed from the president-elect’s campaign website.
It was not clear whether this meant he no longer intended to pursue such proposals.
Michelle Obama also met privately with Trump’s wife, Melania, in the White House residence on Thursday.
Michelle Obama, who herself was a caustic critic of Trump during several campaign appearances for Clinton, showed Melania Trump the famous Truman Balcony as well as the State Floor of the White House. The two women discussed raising children at the White House, Earnest said.
(Reporting by Steve Holland, Jeff Mason, Roberta Rampton, Susan Cornwell and David Morgan; Writing by Richard Cowan; Editing by Alistair Bell and Frances Kerry)