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Conversation with President Donald Trump ‘Excellent’ and ‘Wide-Ranging’ : Barack Obama

The President-elect Donald Trump and his wife were invited by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama to visit the White House

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President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump at the White House, Nov. 10, 2016. (Photo: J. Oni / VOA)

November 11, 2016: Just two days after his stunning election victory, President-elect Donald Trump and his wife, Melania Trump, visited the White House, invited by President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.

No press was allowed to film their arrival Thursday, but the president and the president-elect gave brief statements to reporters in the Oval Office after the meeting.

Despite a long history of animosity between Obama and Trump, both were gracious.

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“I just had the opportunity to have an excellent conversation with President-elect Trump,” Obama said. “It was wide-ranging. We talked about some of the organizational issues in setting up the White House; we talked about foreign policy, we talked about domestic policy, and, as I said last night, my number one priority in the coming two months is to try to facilitate a transition that insures our president-elect is successful.”

Trump told reporters the meeting was supposed to last about ten minutes but lasted 90, and it could have gone on even longer.

“I look forward to dealing with the president in the future, including counsel,” he said. “He explained some of the difficulties and the high-flying assets and some of the wonderful things that have been achieved. Mr. President, it was wonderful meeting with you and I look forward to meeting with you many more times in the future.”

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The White House said Obama officials are making sure that Trump and his yet-to-be-named key officials are “prepared from day one to protect our national security.” U.S. intelligence and defense officials are starting to give Trump daily briefings on threats to the country’s security and overseas military operations.

In addition, the Obama administration plans to host two exercises involving several government agencies to help familiarize Trump officials with how the government responds to domestic emergencies, whether terrorist attacks or such natural disasters as violent tornadoes and hurricanes.

‘Less awkward’ than expected

After the meeting, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was asked if the meeting was awkward.

“The meeting might have been a little less awkward than some might have expected,” he said.

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Trump said it was the first time the two men have met personally.

The president campaigned exceptionally hard for his former secretary of state and fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton. Obama often derided Trump, the blunt-spoken real estate mogul who has never held elected office, as unfit to lead the country.

Meanwhile, Trump for years questioned whether Obama was born in the U.S. before recently acknowledging his citizenship. He says he plans to undermine key Obama policies, including the health care reforms, environmental regulations, protection of some immigrants from deportation, and the Iran nuclear deal.

FILE - Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald trump and his wife Melania.
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald trump and his wife Melania. VOA

FILE – Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald trump and his wife Melania.

Rooting for success

Despite the bitter campaign, Obama pledged Wednesday to cooperate with Trump’s takeover.

“It is no secret that the president-elect and I have some pretty significant differences,” Obama said. “But remember, eight years ago, President [George W.] Bush and I had some pretty significant differences. But President Bush’s team could not have been more professional or more gracious in making sure we had a smooth transition.”

Obama said he is rooting for Trump’s success and has ordered the White House team “to work as hard as we can to make sure that this is a successful transition for the president-elect.”

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Secretary of State John Kerry cited the tradition of peaceful changes in leadership as he congratulated Trump on Thursday and wished him well for the “enormous challenges that he will undertake.”

“With a transition like this, the issues that we face don’t go away,” Kerry said during a visit to New Zealand. “The values with which we face them are the same values the day after the election that they were the day before.”

Meeting with Congressional leaders

While in Washington, Trump also met with House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, leaders of the Republican majorities in each chamber, about their legislative plans. Both gave tepid support to Trump during the election, but have vowed to work in concert with him to pass the party’s agenda.

The most prominent Republican effort will be to unwind and replace the Affordable Care Act, the outgoing president’s health care program, known as Obamacare, that helped 20 million people get health insurance.

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First lady, tour and tea

Earnest said first lady Michelle Obama showed future first lady Melania Trump the private quarters, and they had tea. He said they talked about the special challenges of raising children in the White House.

The Obamas have raised their two daughters, Sasha and Malia, in the White House. Donald and Melania Trump have a 10-year-old son, Barron, who will likely grow up in the White House, as well. (VOA)

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“Let it Come Out, Let the People See,” Trump on Mueller Report

Trump’s Republican allies in Congress are also poised to leap to his defense

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U.S. President Donald Trump waves as he arrives at Akron-Canton airport in Canton, Ohio, March 20, 2019. VOA

Democratic congressional leaders have, for the time being, ruled out pursuing impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. That could all change depending on what is in the eagerly awaited report on the Russia investigation being prepared by special counsel Robert Mueller.

On his way to Ohio Wednesday, Trump told reporters outside the White House that the public should have access to the Mueller report.

“Let it come out. Let the people see,” Trump said. “Let’s see whether or not it is legit.”

The decision by Democratic congressional leaders to pass on impeachment seems to be mindful of recent history, especially the Republican-led impeachment effort against President Bill Clinton in 1998.

In announcing her opposition to impeachment, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said simply that Trump “wasn’t worth it.”

Pelosi is sticking to her position despite pressure from liberal activists.

“Impeachment is a divisive issue in our country, and let us see what the facts are, what the law is, and what the behavior is of the president,” Pelosi recently told reporters at the Capitol.​

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“Let it come out. Let the people see,” Trump said. “Let’s see whether or not it is legit.” VOA

Trump: ‘Great job’

For President Trump, the idea of impeachment is, not surprisingly, a non-starter.

“Well, you can’t impeach somebody that is doing a great job. That is the way I view it,” Trump said when asked about the issue in January.

Late last year, Trump told Reuters that he was not concerned about impeachment.

“I think that the people would revolt if that happened,” he said.

Trump’s Republican allies in Congress are also poised to leap to his defense.

“I don’t think it is good for the country,” House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters last week. “The Democrats made a decision (to want to impeach) on the day President Trump one.”

Some Democrats want to keep pushing, including former Hillary Clinton senior adviser Philippe Reines. Reines wrote recently in the New York Times that Democrats would be doing a “civic duty” to pursue impeachment.

“There is a mounting political cost to not impeaching Mr. Trump,” Reines wrote last week. “He will hail it as exoneration and he will go into the 2020 campaign under the banner, ‘I Told You So.’”​

Polls say no

Recent polls show most voters do not favor impeachment at this time. A Quinnipiac University poll earlier this month found that 59 percent of those surveyed do not think House Democrats should initiate impeachment proceedings against the president, while 35 percent support the idea.

Given that the 2020 election cycle is underway, Democrats may prefer to have the voters try to oust Trump during next year’s election, according to George Washington University analyst Matt Dallek.

“By the time impeachment proceedings were even to ramp up, you are talking about the end of 2019 or early 2020,” Dallek told VOA this week. “That creates its own complication because there is another remedy for removing a president and it is called the election.”

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FILE – Then-first lady Hillary Clinton watches her husband, President Bill Clinton, pause as he thanks those Democratic members of the House of Representatives who voted against his impeachment, Dec. 19, 1998. VOA

Political risk

Democrats clearly recall what happened to Bill Clinton in 1998. Clinton lied about and tried to cover up his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky, which led to his impeachment by the House. Clinton remained in office after he was acquitted in a trial in the Senate.

Historically, impeachment has been a rare event. Clinton was only the second president impeached by the House. Andrew Johnson was the first back in 1868. Johnson avoided removal by a single vote in the Senate.

Presidential impeachments have been rare and that is by design, according to University of Virginia expert Larry Sabato.

“They (the founders) did not want presidents impeached and convicted and thrown out of office for minor offenses. They expected Congress to do it only in extreme circumstances.”

Republicans paid a price for the Clinton impeachment, losing five House seats in the 1998 midterm elections. And Sabato said that lesson could have resonance for Democrats today as they mull impeaching Trump.

“Given the fact that the Republicans took a wounded Bill Clinton and made him almost invulnerable for the rest of his term, it should serve as a warning to Democrats,” he said.

Experts also note that the damage to Republicans from the Clinton impeachment was not long-lasting. George W. Bush narrowly beat Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election, and the political fallout from Clinton’s scandal may have cost Gore the presidency.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., center, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 6, 2019. VOA

Senate obstacle

The biggest obstacle facing any impeachment effort of Trump is the Republican-controlled Senate. Democrats would have to bring over at least 20 Republican senators in any impeachment trial in order to get a conviction and remove the president from office.

A vote to impeach a president only requires a majority vote in the House, now controlled by Democrats. But in a Senate trial, it would take 67 of 100 senators to vote for conviction in order to remove the president from office, and Democrats concede that is not a possibility at the moment.

“It has less than zero chance of passing the Senate,” Sabato said. “Why would you go through all this in the House of Representatives, torpedo your entire agenda to impeach Trump in order to send it to the Senate to have him exonerated and not convicted?”

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FILE – President Richard M. Nixon and his wife, Pat Nixon, stand together in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Aug. 9, 1974. VOA

Nixon case

President Richard Nixon was not impeached over the Watergate scandal in 1974, but the process was well underway. The House began impeachment proceedings through the House Judiciary Committee and was preparing to move Articles of Impeachment to the House floor when Nixon decided to resign.

Several Republican senators including Barry Goldwater went to the White House and made it clear to Nixon that he had lost Republican support and would not survive an impeachment trial in the Senate.

Some analysts predict that President Trump could face renewed calls for his ouster depending on the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

“I think if the Mueller report indicates some serious wrongdoing by the president and his campaign, it really empowers Democrats to begin deliberating how to move forward with impeachment proceedings,” said Brookings Institution scholar John Hudak.

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But other experts caution that it would have to be something quite serious for Republicans to even consider abandoning the president.

Given the lack of bipartisan support for impeachment at the moment, it does seem more likely that Trump will face the voters again in 2020 before he has to contend with a Democratic-led impeachment inquiry in the House. (VOA)