By Steve Holland and Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON U.S. President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump met on Thursday for the first time, setting aside the deep rancour that dominated the long campaign season as they discussed the transition to Trump's inauguration on Jan. 20.Their 90-minute meeting in the White House Oval Office, with no aides present, took place just two days after Trump's stunning defeat of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.Obama, who vigorously campaigned for his fellow Democrat to succeed him, had repeatedly called Trump unfit for the president's office, while the Republican candidate had often denounced Obama's tenure as a "disaster."But in separate post-election remarks on Wednesday both men appeared to seek to help the country heal from a bitterly divisive campaign season, and that tone continued into the White House meeting on Thursday.Seated next to Obama after their talks, Trump told reporters: "We really discussed a lot of situations, some wonderful, some difficulties." He said Obama explained "some of the great things that have been achieved," but did not elaborate."It was a great honour being with you and I look forward to being with you many, many more times in the future," Trump said, with a tone of deference.After Trump left the White House and travelled to Capitol Hill for meetings with Republican congressional leaders, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters, "The meeting might have been at least a little less awkward than some might have expected."
Obama said he and Trump, a real estate magnate who has never held political office, discussed a range of domestic and foreign policy issues and details related to the transition period.Obama offered assistance to the New York businessman over the next couple months, and urged the country to unite to face its challenges."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 at the end of the meeting.Their relaxed, cordial demeanour in front of the cameras was in stark contrast to the months of harsh rhetoric during the campaign.
Trump used Obama as a punching bag during his campaign speeches, repeatedly attacking the president's policies from healthcare to an Iran nuclear deal. Both Obama and first lady Michelle Obama attacked Trump as temperamentally unfit for the White House and dangerously unprepared to have access to U.S. nuclear codes.Both Obama and Trump sought to change the bitter election tone right after Trump's unexpected election victory.On Wednesday, Obama said that despite his major differences with Trump, he would follow the lead of former Republican President George W. Bush in 2008 and ensure a smooth handover to Trump. Asked at a White House briefing on Thursday whether the meeting had eased any of the concerns about Trump that Obama expressed during the campaign, Earnest said, "The president was never in a position to choose a successor. The American people chose his successor."
In a possible early pivot by Trump, controversial campaign proposals, including his call to ban Muslims from entering the United States, have been removed from the president-elect's campaign website. It was not clear whether this meant he no longer intended to pursue such proposals.As the current president and next president huddled, White House chief of staff Denis McDonough was seen walking near the Rose Garden with Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, who like Trump is also a real estate developer, and other aides.Michelle Obama also met privately with Trump's wife, Melania, in the White House residence.Michelle Obama, who herself was a caustic critic of Trump during several campaign appearances for Clinton, showed Melania Trump the famous Truman Balcony as well as the state floor of the White House. The two women discussed raising children at the White House, Earnest said. (Reporting by Steve Holland, Jeff Mason and Roberta Rampton; Writing by Richard Cowan; Editing by Alistair Bell and Frances Kerry)
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