'Why bother?': Biden, Trump advisers see little value in White House meeting
As of this weekend, President Donald Trump has waited longer than any other president in nearly a century to sit down with his successor at the White House - a tradition that aims to highlight the peaceful transfer of power that is at the core of American democracy.
And Trump's advisors say he and President-elect Joe Biden could never face each other on inauguration day and blow up another American political ritual.
But while Biden said in a CNN interview earlier this month that Trump's presence at his inauguration would be symbolic, neither side sees much value in the two men talking ... ever.
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"Under normal circumstances, this is another indication of the peaceful transfer of power and the depth of our respect for democracy," said John Podesta, who, as President Bill Clinton's chief of staff, welcomed President-elect George W. Bush and his best advisors to the White House on December 19, 2000, a meeting delayed by the Florida recount and legal challenges to the election results.
But Biden, Podesta said, would have little to gain from meeting Trump, who still has not conceded. "My view would be why bother?" he said.
Those in Trump's orbit are no more enthusiastic than Podesta. "Are you talking to him about what?" said a person close to the president when asked if Trump could speak to Biden.
Those close to Trump believe that inviting Biden to the White House or even talking to him would run the risk of being perceived as a clean sheet in the race, which Trump was reluctant to do when he talked about another run in 2024 thought. The same factors could keep him away from Biden's inauguration next month.
Trump is unlikely to meet with Biden or go to his swearing-in "because Joe Biden is an illegitimate president and should never be treated like that," said another Trump aide. "That is what the president thinks and many people agree."
Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, declined to comment on Trump's plans.
"Anonymous sources who claim to know what the president is or not have no idea," he said in a statement. "When President Trump has an announcement about his plans for January 20th, he will let you know."
Biden and Trump have been sitting down longer than any other elected president and president since Herbert Hoover was elected in 1928. This is the result of research by the Center for the Transition of the President of the Partnership and POLITICO. Hoover left California by ship after election day on a diplomatic voyage through Central and South America and did not meet with President Calvin Coolidge until January 7, 1929.
President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump shake hands after their meeting in the Oval Office on November 10, 2016.
The youngest presidents met with their successors much earlier. President Barack Obama hosted Trump in the White House two days after the 2016 election. George W. Bush showed Obama the Oval Office less than a week after Election Day 2008.
Such meetings did not always go smoothly.
"President Carter was quite surprised to meet Reagan," Jody Powell, former press secretary for President Jimmy Carter, told the New York Times in 2008 during his post-election meeting. "There was a point where he sorted. " often went off and asked questions that were only tangential to what they were talking about. "
Nevertheless, these seats have given the outgoing presidents the opportunity to warn their successors of the potential threats they will face after taking office - whether in terms of foreign policy or personnel. "I think you will find that by far your greatest threat is Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda," Clinton told the 9/11 Commission to Bush when they met in 2000.
"One of the big regrets of my presidency is that I didn't get it for you because I tried," added Clinton. (Bush told the commission that he was sure Clinton mentioned terrorism but did not remember speaking about al-Qaeda.)
Obama, meanwhile, warned Trump when they met in 2016 not to hire Michael Flynn, whom Obama dismissed as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Trump ignored the advice only to oust Flynn himself weeks into his presidency. Obama also told Trump that North Korea would be the main national security issue he would face in his presidency.
However, the traditional White House meeting will not only delve deep into certain political issues, it will also set the tone for the transition between the two administrations. When Clinton came to the White House to meet with Bush after the 1992 election, her best aides huddled in the Roosevelt Room at the same time.
"If you ever hear of anyone in our administration throwing sand in the equipment, give me a call," said Secretary of Transportation Andy Card, the director of Bush's transition efforts, told Clinton's aide, according to notes from Chase Untermeyer, another senior Bush aide .
Card later returned to the White House with George W. Bush after the 2000 election. In an interview, Card said he thought it would be good for the world to see Trump and Biden sit together.
"I don't know what kind of information is being transmitted, but the symbolism of the meeting is important," he said.
Trump's administration has made little effort to be cooperative - a General Services Administration Trump appointee refused to recognize Biden's victory until three weeks after the election, and Yohannes Abraham, the executive director of the Biden transition, told reporters on Friday Team had come across "pockets of intransigence" during their work.
But Trump and Biden's best helpers talk to each other, even if their bosses aren't. Mark Meadows, Trump's chief of staff at the White House, has had several conversations with Ron Klain, Biden's chief of staff, over the past few weeks.
If Trump skips Biden's inauguration, he will be the first president since 1869, when President Andrew Johnson blew Ulysses S. Grant's swearing-in ceremony.
In an interview with CNN earlier this month, Biden said that Trump's presence at his inauguration would be "important in the sense that at the end of this mess he created we can demonstrate that there is a peaceful transfer of power with the competing parties stand there, shake hands and walk on. "
"But it is entirely his decision and it is - it has no personal consequence to me," he added.
But one of the Trump advisors, speaking on condition of anonymity, suggested that Trump's presence at Biden's swearing-in ceremony after the bitter campaign would sound wrong.
"The Obamas and the Clintons are attending the inauguration and will spend the next few years insulting Donald Trump," the adviser said. “What does it mean to attend the initiation? Maybe Donald Trump is more honest than others when he doesn't leave. "
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