Donald Trump has met Barack Obama at the White House for a meeting described afterwards by the president as “excellent” and by his successor as a “great honour”.
In a cordial start to the transfer of the US presidency that contrasted starkly with a rancourous election campaign, the two men held a discussion scheduled for 15 minutes but which lasted almost an hour and a half.
Throughout the US presidential election campaign the president attacked the tycoon as unfit to serve as commander-in-chief, and Mr Trump has spent years challenging the legitimacy of Mr Obama’s presidency by falsely suggesting he may have been born outside the US.
But at the end of yesterday’s meeting in the Oval Office, Mr Obama said to Mr Trump: “We now are going to want to do everything we can to help you succeed because if you succeed the country succeeds.”
Mr Trump called Mr Obama a “very good man” and said he looked forward “to dealing with the president in the future, including counsel”.
During his campaign Mr Trump vowed to wipe away much of what Mr Obama has done during his eight years in office. The Republican president-elect, who will govern with Congress fully under Republican control, has vowed to repeal Mr Obama’s signature health care law and dismantle the landmark nuclear accord with Iran.
First lady Michelle Obama also met Mr Trump’s wife Melania privately in the White House while vice-president Joe Biden prepared to see vice-president-elect Mike Pence.
Mr Obama and Mr Trump met alone, without any staff present, according to White House press secretary Josh Earnest.
Mr Earnest said: “The two men did not relitigate their differences in the Oval Office. We’re on to the next phase.”
Mr Trump travelled to Washington from New York on his private jet, breaking protocol by not bringing journalists in his motorcade or on his plane to document his historic visit to the White House. He was harshly critical of the media during his campaign and for a time banned news organisations whose coverage he disliked from his events.
From the White House, Mr Trump headed to Capitol Hill for meetings with House speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to discuss the Republican legislative agenda.
Mr Ryan, who holds the most powerful post in Congress, was a critic of Mr Trump, was slow to endorse him and did not campaign with the nominee. Mr Pence intended to join both meetings.
As scores of journalists waited to be admitted to the Oval Office to see Mr Obama and Mr Trump together, they saw White House chief of staff Denis McDonough walking along the South Lawn driveway with Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law.
Mr Trump’s transition team was culling through personnel lists for top jobs yesterday and working through handover plans for government agencies. The process was said to be still in its early stages last night, but Mr Trump’s team was putting a premium on filling key national security posts quickly.
According to an organisational chart for the transition, Mr Trump was relying on experienced hands to help form his administration. National security planning was being led by former Michigan Representative Mike Rogers, who previously worked for the FBI. Domestic issues were being handled by Ken Blackwell, a former Cincinnati mayor and Ohio secretary of state.
Mr Trump was expected to consider several loyal supporters for top jobs, including former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani for attorney general or national security adviser and campaign finance chairman Steve Mnuchin for Treasury secretary. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich and Tennessee senator Bob Corker were also expected to be under consideration for foreign policy posts.
As president-elect, Mr Trump is entitled to get the same daily intelligence briefing as Mr Obama – one that includes information on US covert operations, information gleaned about world leaders and other data gathered by intelligence agencies.
The White House said it would organise two exercises involving multiple agencies to help Mr Trump’s team learn how to respond to major domestic incidents.