Trump launched his political career by questioning Obama’s place of birth. On Thursday, Obama showed Trump his new home.
They had never met before.
They have hated each other intensely from afar, each to the other the prime example of what so many Americans get wrong, and what they needed to run for president to try to correct.
Thursday, they spent 90 minutes alone in the Oval Office.
Afterward, they tried to tell everyone they’d gotten along and everything was going to be all right.
Glasses of water with the presidential seal were on the tables at either side, still with their protective paper tops on, untouched. They refused to answer any questions beyond their prepared remarks, including one that is on many minds: “Do you still consider him a threat to the republic?”
President Barack Obama spoke first. President-elect Donald Trump barely looked at him, his eyes on the floor, darting around the room, his face a little red, his son-in-law Jared Kushner—who had just had a long walk around the South Lawn of the White House with Obama chief of staff Denis McDonough, potentially indicating the sort of role he’ll have in the Trump administration—taking photos of the meeting on his iPhone. He was framed by a painting of the Statue of Liberty’s torch on the curved wall above his head, a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. that Obama treasures behind him.
At points, Obama spoke to the reporters, at points to Trump. But he looked straight at him at the end.
“Most of all, 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—because if you succeed, then the country succeeds,” Obama said, Trump’s face turning to him fully for the first time.
Trump called him “a very good man.”
Then he started his remarks with something that was not true: “This was a meeting that was going to last for maybe 10 or 15 minutes,” Trump said.
The meeting had been scheduled to last an hour. The reporters brought into the Oval Office at the end were told long before not to even assemble for the brief access at its end until the meeting would have been going on for 30 minutes.