By JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS NOV. 10, 2016
WASHINGTON — President Obama and Donald J. Trump made a public show on Thursday of putting their bitter differences aside after a stunning election upset. The Oval Office meeting brought together a president who has darkly warned that Mr. Trump could not be trusted with the nuclear codes and a successor who rose to political prominence questioning Mr. Obama’s birthplace and legitimacy.
“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,” Mr. Obama told Mr. Trump as the two sat side-by-side after the roughly 90-minute meeting. The president called the session “excellent” and wide-ranging.
Mr. Trump, who said he had never met Mr. Obama before and expected the meeting to last only 10 or 15 minutes, said it had been a “great honor” to sit with the president.
“We discussed a lot of different situations, some wonderful and some difficulties. I very much look forward to dealing with the president in the future, including counsel,” Mr. Trump said.
It was an extraordinary show of cordiality and respect between two men who have been political enemies and are stylistic opposites — Mr. Trump a brash real estate executive and reality television star whose campaign was defined in opposition to the sitting president, and Mr. Obama, a cool-tempered intellectual who has pressed a progressive agenda in office.
Mr. Trump, whose election on Tuesday stunned the president and rocked the political establishment in Washington, arrived in the White House driveway on Thursday out of sight of the crowds of reporters and news media cameras assembled there. His staff had refused to arrange for journalists to document his movements, as is customary both for the president and the president-elect, and Mr. Obama’s team did not arrange for the traditional photograph of the sitting president and his wife greeting their successors in front of the White House.
Mr. Obama said his wife, Michelle, who emerged this fall as an outspoken critic of Mr. Trump on the campaign trail, met with Melania Trump while their husbands spoke in the Oval Office.
“We want to make sure that they feel welcome,” Mr. Obama said of the Trumps.
The meetings unfolded as Mr. Obama’s staff was starting the daunting business of handing over the vast bureaucracy of the United States government to Mr. Trump’s staff, including vital national security information and resources he would need in the event of a catastrophic attack.
Ahead of Mr. Trump’s arrival in Washington on Thursday morning, top advisers to Mr. Obama had spent months preparing for a transition, a highly complex venture condensed into the 72-day period between now and the Jan. 20 inauguration. It is up to them and the Trump team to set it in motion, pairing Obama administration staff members with representatives of the president-elect for crash courses in the inner workings of the White House and federal agencies. Two war-gaming exercises are planned to help ready the new team for a terrorist strike or other national security crisis.
Mr. Obama said Wednesday that he had instructed his staff to follow the example set by President George W. Bush in 2008 and provide a professional and smooth transition for Mr. Trump’s team, despite the vast policy differences that separate the president and his successor. For all the public drama and division of the presidential campaign, in private, Mr. Obama’s aides have since July been quietly working with advisers to both Hillary Clinton and Mr. Trump to plan for the passing of power.
“As everyone has been ramping down and wrapping things up elsewhere around this building, I have been ramping up here for this next phase,” said Anita Decker Breckenridge, Mr. Obama’s deputy chief of staff. She said she had been impressed by the personnel sent by both campaigns to plan the transition.
“They have taken it seriously,” she said in an interview.
Still, given that Mr. Trump’s was a nontraditional campaign that did not have scores of seasoned policy staff members or deep relationships within Washington, it is not clear who will be assigned to do the highly technical work of taking the reins of government.
“Landing teams” now in place at each federal agency will begin working as early as Thursday with aides designated by Mr. Trump to hand over crucial operations, some of them using sensitive technology tools, such as secure websites, to make the information more easily digestible.
At the Department of Homeland Security, officials have loaded briefing materials onto tablets for the president-elect’s team in a searchable format. At the Department of Justice, officials created a cloud portal for the information.
“Our emphasis here has been putting together quality not quantity – we want to have targeted materials,” said Lee Lofthus, the Justice Department’s assistant attorney general for administration. “The goal here is not to be putting together phone books that people have to file through.”
But the crush of information may be onerous, particularly when it comes to Mr. Trump’s task of hiring 4,000 political appointees over a matter of weeks. Saddled with an antiquated personnel system when Mr. Obama was elected in 2008, his aides moved this year to build a new one designed to make it easier to track the positions, as well as the applicants and their personal and professional information.
In December, Mr. Obama’s team plans to hold the first of two war-gaming exercises to prepare Mr. Trump and his staff for a potential national security crisis.
Mr. Obama’s aides participated in a similar exercise organized by Mr. Bush’s White House the week before his 2009 inauguration, during which they sat side by side in the Situation Room and gamed out how the government would respond to a series of simultaneous explosions in American cities.
The second simulation for Mr. Trump is set for January, days before he officially gains access to the nuclear codes.