It seemed almost normal.
Barack Obama called Donald Trump “Mr. President-elect.” Donald Trump called Barack Obama “Mr. President.”
And the two politicians from the farthest-possible poles in America politics, meeting for the first time, discussed the logistics of the peaceable transfer of power between them, and with it control of the world’s mightiest military.
For a candidate and a campaign that disregarded custom and shattered political norms with relish from the start, Trump, on his second day as president-elect, stuck closely to the script of the standards expected of presidents-elect.
He chatted amicably with Obama. He visited the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill. He announced plans to sit down for his first formal interview, on the venerable “60 Minutes.” He had tweeted, as of midafternoon, only once. “Happy 241st birthday to the U.S. Marine Corps!” he wrote.
Only days ago, Obama had said that Trump was “unfit” for the Oval Office, the same place where they chatted on Thursday in leather chairs with a bowl of fresh apples in front of them. Trump has previously called Obama the “worst” president in U.S. history, and questioned for years his legitimacy as an American citizen.
They shook hands anyway on Thursday.
“If you succeed, then the country succeeds,” Obama told him.
The meeting was to have lasted little more than 10 minutes, Trump said, but they bantered for an hour and a half.
“It could have gone on for a lot longer,” Trump said.
Trump’s remarks with Obama were his first since his victory speech early Wednesday morning, when the divisive candidate and self-avowed biggest “counterpuncher” in the world, declared it was “time for America to bind the wounds of division.”
Gov. Chris Christie, the head of Trump’s transition team, said late Wednesday on MSNBC that there was “a certain solemnity” to victory that he sensed in Trump as they watched the returns roll in on Tuesday night.
“I could definitely see that in his eyes. He understands now that he is going to be the leader of the free world and — all of the responsibilities that come along with that,” Christie said.
After the White House, Trump lunched with House Speaker Paul Ryan at the Capitol Hill Club and the two walked, stride for stride, through the corridors of the Capitol. It marked the first time all year that Ryan, currently the highest-ranking elected Republican in the nation, and Trump, who will take that title in January, had appeared together in public.
Vice President-elect Mike Pence met separately with Vice President Joe Biden and joined Trump for his meetings on Capitol Hill, along with incoming first lady Melania Trump. Ryan later showed Trump the speaker’s private balcony, overlooking the National Mall. It is roughly the same view Trump will see on the day he is inaugurated in a little over two months.
“We are now talking about how we’re going to hit the ground running to make sure that we can get this country turned around,” Ryan said. Then he appropriated Trump’s signature slogan. “And make America great again.”
Trump also met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and walked the Senate corridors, flashing a thumbs up and giving a brief wave, and declared his top three priorities as border security, jobs and health care, presumably unraveling Obama’s signature achievement.
“People will be very, very happy,” Trump predicted, promising “big league jobs.”
His first visit to Washington D.C. as president-elect was the subject of fanfare as Fox, MSNBC and CNN all carried live coverage of his plane rolling across the tarmac.
But after a campaign in which Trump made attacking the news media a centerpiece of his candidacy, he continued to offer warning signs for an administration that could prove hostile to the press. On Thursday, he broke with tradition and refused to allow what’s known as a “protective pool” of reporters to travel in his motorcade.
Jeff Mason, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, said the group is “deeply concerned” and that the decision is “unacceptable.”
“In addition to breaking with decades of historical precedent and First Amendment principles, this decision could leave Americans blind about his whereabouts and well-being in the event of a national crisis,” Mason said.
As Trump glad-handed across the city, there was increasingly intensive jockeying across Washington for top jobs in a Trump administration, including some sharp, early-thrown elbows that mirrored the infighting that marred the Trump campaign itself.
Kellyanne Conway, his campaign manager, hinted on Twitter that she’d been offered a job, for instance, pushing back against a report that she wanted to stay at her polling firm.
“False,” she tweeted. “Could it be those ‘sources’ want the WH job I’ve been offered?”
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, meanwhile, said on CNN that “there’s probably nobody that knows the Justice Department better than me,” signaling his interest in the attorney general post, one for which he is a rumored contender.
Another potential attorney general is Christie, who is expected to compete to serve as Trump’s first chief of staff, a powerful post to implement the administration’s agenda as Republicans hold the White House and both chambers in Congress. Conservatives would hold a 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court, too, once a Trump justice is confirmed to the high court.
But perhaps the most telling staffing signal was a walk that Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, took around the South Lawn with Obama’s chief of staff Denis McDonough.
And while Trump played the part of president as he traipsed around the town he will soon run, the billionaire claimed he is eager for the dress rehearsal to be over.
“I think we’re going to see some absolutely spectacular things for the American people,” he predicted Thursday. “We look forward to starting. In fact, truthfully, we can’t get started fast enough.”
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