Donald Trump’s top advisors urged his opponents to grant the president-elect a “fresh start” on Thursday, as the man who spent 17 months maligning the establishment took his first formal steps in assuming its reins.
Trump and his aides made a ritual journey to the White House to meet with President Obama, a man whose birthplace he questioned until recently, before strolling the august corridors and admiring the views from the Capitol with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the two Republicans whose relationships will prove pivotal to his success.
Normally, such steps are symbolic but rote. For Trump, the significance went much further. Ryan, like many in his party’s establishment, was reluctant to embrace Trump, and Trump campaigned on a promise to reverse the achievements of Obama, who explicitly charged that the business mogul was unfit to hold the nation’s highest elected office.
Though Trump hunched and twitched his fingers uncomfortably while sitting across from Obama in the Oval Office, the men spoke warmly of each other, giving unspoken assurance that the transition of power would not be impeded by the historically nasty presidential campaign.
Obama called the meeting excellent and renewed his vow to help make Trump successful. Trump only lamented that the meeting did not last longer, saying it had already been stretched beyond the planned 10 or 15 minutes into a full hour and a half because of their easy rapport.
“I very much look forward to dealing with the president in the future, including counsel,” he said.
Trump also promised to work quickly with Ryan and other congressional Republicans on healthcare — an issue on which they are united in their desire to repeal Obama’s signature law — as well as immigration and “big-league jobs” proposals.
The pledges to cooperate, even if many items on his to-do list remain divisive, were among several signs that Trump wants to put some aspects of the polarizing campaign behind him and show, as he long promised, a more presidential face.
His blunt call to ban all Muslims from entering the country, for example, was temporarily expunged from his campaign website after lingering there since he issued it in December, following the deadly terrorist attack in San Bernardino.
Trump’s staff restored it Thursday afternoon. Trump walked away from reporters without answering when asked during his Capitol visit whether he would continue to pursue the policy, which he had seemed to amend over the course of the campaign.
Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor and close Trump confidant, also suggested Trump may let go of his vow to pursue a prosecution of Hillary Clinton, another campaign rallying cry. On Capitol Hill, Republicans have been mum on whether they would press forward with investigations targeting Clinton.
"I don't like to see America become a country where we prosecute people because of politics," Giuliani said on Fox News. Yet he gave Trump room to maneuver, adding that "there are deep and disturbing issues there."
The day followed an evening of large protests around the country by opponents who came away from the election angry, declaring that they would not accept Trump as their president.
"There will be a fresh start," Michael Cohen, a lawyer for the Trump Organization, said on CNN as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is leading Trump’s transition to the White House, declared that Trump and the nation had moved beyond the controversy Trump inflamed regarding Obama’s birthplace.
It remained unclear whether such moves represent a full or permanent shift in Trump’s approach.
As a candidate, Trump frequently rebuffed public suggestions from his own campaign that he would soften some of his stances or pull back from controversial promises. He notably contradicted his running mate, Vice President-elect Mike Pence, at one point saying that Pence did not accurately represent his Syria policy because the two men had not spoken about it. Trump would also follow days of scripted policy speeches with late-night tweets or other public denunciations of his critics that would dilute his efforts to appear above the fray.
Trump will also face immense pressure from the passionate supporters who fueled his election to keep hammering at the establishment.
Yet, as Trump assumes the presidency and begins to grasp the full weight of responsibility, he may be entering a new phase.
His precise policy agenda will take shape over the next several weeks as he selects Cabinet secretaries and other key advisors who will help determine his priorities. On Thursday, one of the nation’s most prominent immigration hard-liners emerged as a top player in Trump’s transition. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who helped to craft Arizona's 2010 law that let local police crack down on immigrants suspected of entering the country illegally, told a local television station that he would be helping Trump’s team on immigration-related issues.
"There's no question the wall is going to get built. The only question is, how quickly will it get done and who pays for it?" Kobach told KWCH.
Names from the lobbying world were also emerging in news reports detailing members of the transition team, including people with ties to the energy, banking and tobacco industries.
Trump laid out an extensive list for his first days in office during a speech in Gettysburg, Pa., last month, including steep tax reductions, a border wall with Mexico, a freeze in most federal government hiring and the cancellation of billions of dollars in payments for United Nations climate change programs.
He also included a dozen issues on a new transition website he unveiled Thursday, including infrastructure spending, trade policy, and the dismantling of the financial rules Obama created with Congress following the 2008 banking industry collapse.
Some of the actions can be taken unilaterally — something McConnell has welcomed. But others will require congressional approval, with politically difficult votes that not all Republicans will want to take.
Giuliani said on CNN that the Trump administration could begin building an immigration wall on the Southwest border under executive authority, rearranging money already approved by Congress for other aspects of immigration enforcement. It is unclear whether Congress will agree with that interpretation.
Times staff writers Christi Parsons, Michael A. Memoli and Lisa Mascaro in Washington, Kurtis Lee in Los Angeles and Chris Megerian in New York contributed to this report.
3:55 p.m.: This story was updated with details on Trump’s transition team.
This story was originally published at 1:45 p.m.