President-elect Donald Trump arrived at the White House on Thursday morning for his first one-on-one meeting with President Barack Obama, heralding the start of the transition of power between two men who sniped at each other throughout the bitter presidential campaign.
The private Oval Office meeting could be awkward: Trump, a central figure in the so-called “birther” movement, spent years railing against Obama and challenging the legitimacy of his 2008 election. Obama, who campaigned heartily for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, repeatedly slammed Trump as unfit for office.
The men have had virtually no personal contact. They were last in the same room at the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner — the night Obama pilloried Trump in a scathing comedy routine.
As Obama huddled with Trump for their closed-door meeting, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough strolled along the South Lawn with Trump’s son-in-law and confidant, Jared Kushner.
Obama had congratulated the president-elect in a statement in the Rose Garden on Wednesday, pledging to do his part in a cordial handover — just as President George W. Bush did for him eight years ago.
“It is not secret that the president-elect and I have some pretty significant differences,” Obama said. “The peaceful transition of power is one of the hallmarks of our democracy.”
Trump has threatened to undo much of Obama’s policies and programs. At stake is the president’s legacy on health care initiatives, immigration, a global climate change pact and a nuclear deal with Iran.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Wednesday that Obama is hoping to impart to Trump the benefits of his policies.
“There is a tradition, particularly with regard to executive agreements, of successive presidents preserving some element of continuity,” Earnest said. “I don’t know whether or not that will fly in this case.”
A White House official told NBC News that the president wants to ensure a “seamless transition” and let Trump know that White House staff remains committed to a new administration.
Obama will touch on the responsibilities of the office and how they differ from what happens in a campaign, the official added.
Trump on Thursday was joined at the White House by wife, Melania, who was meeting in the residence with first lady Michelle Obama.
Vice President Joe Biden will also visit Vice President-elect Mike Pence later Thursday afternoon.
Trump departed for Washington in his Trump-branded airliner out of New York’s LaGuardia Airport, where water cannons sprayed the jet in a ceremonial sendoff.
His swearing in would take place Jan. 20. But the next several weeks could prove tumultuous following a contentious election that has sparked street protests throughout the country. On Wednesday night, thousands in Chicago, New York and cities in California held signs and chanted, “Not my president,” in reference to Trump.