President Barack Obama met for more than 90 minutes with President-elect Donald Trump in the Oval Office on Thursday, an unexpectedly lengthy encounter that ended with both men offering uncharacteristic praise for each other.
Obama, calling their discussion an “excellent conversation,” said he was “encouraged” by Trump’s interest in working with his administration as the president-elect prepares to address the nation’s challenges.
“I want to emphasize to you, Mr. President-elect, that we now are going to want to do everything we can to help you succeed,” Obama said before a scrum of reporters ushered into the Oval Office after the meeting.
Noting that it was the first time they’d met, Trump called it an “honor” to have met with Obama, adding that he hoped they would continue to meet and that he would seek Obama’s counsel after he leaves office.
“I have great respect,” Trump added, describing their conversation as a discussion of some “wonderful” issues and some “difficulties” ahead.
Though both men had spent the day and a half since Trump’s election emphasizing a peaceful transition of power, the atmosphere surrounding it was more fraught. Trump campaigned on a repudiation of the Obama years while Obama spent months calling the GOP nominee unfit for the presidency.
And, of course, Trump was the most prominent backer of the birther movement, which sought to undermine Obama’s presidency by lying about his birthplace.
But as the two sat in the wing chairs of the Oval Office, a pairing reserved for heads of state, they were deferential and polite, appearing committed to their new joint project – the peaceful transition of power.
“My number one priority in the coming two months is to just facilitate a transition that ensures our president-elect his success,” Obama said.
Trump said after the 90-minute meeting that “as far as I’m concerned, it could have gone on for a lot longer.”
Then he leaned forward and offered his hand, and the two men shook for the cameras.