On Thursday, Barack Obama began peacefully transferring power to the man who popularized the conspiracy theory that the first black president wasn’t born in the United States and was thus illegitimate.
Obama welcomed Donald Trump — who had recently suggested that the sitting president was sympathetic to ISIS — into the Oval Office, while Michelle Obama gave Melania Trump a tour of her new home.
Trump and Obama — who had recently characterized the president-elect as a greedy, incompetent, hateful demagogue who represented all of our nation’s worst impulses — discussed the policies that the sitting president hopes his successor will continue, according to White House press secretary Josh Earnest.
Trump is all but certain to repeal most of those policies. But on Thursday, in front of the cameras, he and Obama performed gestures of unity.
“As I said last night, 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. “And I have been very encouraged by the, I think, interest in President-elect Trump’s wanting to work with my team around many of the issues that this great country faces.”
“If you succeed, the country succeeds,” Obama added, addressing Trump.
Trump replied with the following:
Well, thank you very much, President Obama. This was a meeting that was going to last for maybe 10 or 15 minutes, and we were just going to get to know each other. We had never met each other. I have great respect — the meeting lasted for almost an hour and a half. And it could have, as far as I’m concerned, it could have gone on for a lot longer. We really — 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, including counsel. He explained some of the difficulties, some of the high-flying assets, and some of the really great things that have been achieved. Mr. President, it was a great honor being with you, and I look forward to being with you many more times in the future. Thank you, sir.
The president-elect proceeded to inform a pool of reporters, several times, that Obama was “a very good man.”
Initially, it appeared there were limits to Obama’s hospitality. The Wall Street Journal reported:
The Obamas canceled a photo-op of the current and future first couples outside the south entrance of the White House. In his first visit to the White House after the 2008 election, Mr. Obama and first lady Michelle Obama posed for the cameras alongside President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush. The decision not to participate in this tradition illustrates how bitter the campaign was, particularly for Mrs. Obama who delivered some of the most emotional arguments against electing Mr. Trump.
However, later in the day White House press secretary Josh Earnest pushed back, saying that the first couples photo wasn’t canceled, it was just “lower in priority” than the Oval Office photo. “The press access we put together was based on the guidance we received from all of you over the last eight years about what the priority is,” Earnest said. He said he didn’t believe the first lady’s office was even consulted about press arrangements for the day, and promised to check with the White House photographer to see if the meeting of the couples was documented.
That wasn’t the only thing riling the press on Thursday. In an ominous move earlier that morning, Trump refused to allow a group of journalists to travel with him to the historic meeting, breaking with well-established norms. The president-elect had spent much of his campaign demonizing the press, arguing that its freedom should be curtailed via lower standards for libel lawsuits, and denying critical outlets access to his campaign events.
The Associated Press suggests that Trump’s decision contravened the principle that the public has a right to have “a watchful eye on the nation’s leader.”
This post has been updated to note include Earnest’s comments on the first couples photo.