Diplomacy aside, Obama still believes Trump is unfit to become President
Published 11/11/2016 | 02:30
Barack Obama still believes Donald Trump is unfit to serve as president, the White House said yesterday, just minutes after he held an outwardly warm meeting with his successor.
Mr Obama welcomed Mr Trump into the Oval Office yesterday for what he described as an "excellent conversation" about the handover of power from one administration to the next.
Exactly what happened in there isn't a matter of public record. No staff were present; the White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, was reluctant to be drawn on details.
When their meeting was over, the press pool flooded in to the Oval Office and the two men gave a brief statement.
The gulf between words and body language was enormous. Mr Obama called it an "excellent" and "wide-ranging" conversation: "We now are going to want to do everything we can to help you succeed - because if you succeed, then the country succeeds."
Mr Trump said it was "an honour" to be with the president. He added that the meeting was only supposed to last for 10 or 15 minutes but had run on for an hour and a half.
The press secretary was asked about this and he diplomatically said that Mr Obama actually had more than 15 minutes pencilled in his diary.
In a campaign season, Mr Earnest might have called Mr Trump a liar. Now the election is over, he left it up to the press to infer that 'The Donald' was making things up. Well, you can put a leopard in charge of the free world but he won't change his spots.
A journalist asked Mr Earnest if Mr Trump had discussed his plans to overturn Obamacare and put Hillary Clinton in jail. Mr Earnest looked as if he didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
The differences between Mr Obama and Mr Trump are not just ideological but intensely personal - because Mr Trump ran a scorched earth campaign that questioned the very integrity of Mr Obama, Mrs Clinton and the Washington establishment. Now, he finds himself in charge of Washington, and the question on everyone's mind is can he actually govern - or has his candidacy left him with too many enemies?
Mr Obama said he was "encouraged" by the meeting, and vowed to do everything in his power to help Mr Trump become a successful president.
Afterward Mr Earnest was asked if the president still believed Mr Trump was "temperamentally unfit" and "uniquely unqualified" to lead the country.
"The president's views haven't changed; he stands by what he said on the campaign trail," Mr Earnest said.
The statement belied the praise Mr Obama and Mr Trump exchanged following their meeting, which had shown a sharp change in tone from a campaign in which Mr Obama mocked Mr Trump relentlessly.
Mr Earnest added that the meeting, which is customary between an outgoing president and his successor, was not intended to "recreate the debate" from the campaign.
Mr Trump noted after the meeting that he had never before met Mr Obama, and congratulated the president for his "really great" accomplishments.
"Mr President, it was a great honour being with you, and I look forward to being with you many, many more times in the future," he said.
The topics discussed during the "wide-ranging discussion" included foreign and domestic policy, as well as the process of staffing the administration.
Mr Trump remarked that the meeting was intended to only last "maybe 10 or 15 minutes", but had carried on for 90.
"As far as I'm concerned, it could have gone on for a lot longer," he said.
Mr Trump had previously described Mr Obama as one of the worst presidents in history, and was a leader of the "birther" campaign based on the erroneous claim that Mr Obama was an illegitimate president because he was born outside the US.
While Mr Obama and Mr Trump met in the Oval Office, Michelle Obama showed Melania Trump around the East Wing, which houses the presidential residence.
That meeting too was tinged with awkwardness, as parts of Mrs Trump's address at the Republican National Convention were taken wholesale from one of Mrs Obama's speeches.
Mr Obama said he and the first lady were intent on making the Trumps feel welcome in their soon-to-be home.
"Most of all, I want to emphasise 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," he told Mr Trump.
The Obamas did not pose for a photo opportunity with the Trumps, as they did with the Bushes during the equivalent meeting in 2008.
In addition to the White House meeting, Joe Biden, the vice-president, hosted Mike Pence, Mr Trump's running mate, at Mr Pence's soon-to-be residence at the US Naval Observatory. Mr Trump and Mr Pence then travelled to Capitol Hill to meet with Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House.
Behind the scenes, members of Mr Trump's transition team were working to vet candidates for key roles in the incoming administration.
The first selections are likely to be chief of staff - with son-in-law Jared Kushner and Reince Priebus, chief of the Republican National Committee, likely candidates - and Mr Trump's national security team. The effort is being led by Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor who has been mired in political scandal, and Jeff Sessions, the Alabama senator tipped for a senior role in Mr Trump's cabinet.