Donald Trump played the outsider and the insider on his first day in office
WASHINGTON — The contrast played out in little more than an hour.
In his sharply worded inaugural address Friday, President Trump railed against the political elites arrayed on the steps of the Capitol, declaring “the establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country.”
But a short time later, Trump sat inside that Capitol, flanked by many of those very same leaders as he signed papers formally nominating his Cabinet. The chummy tone couldn’t have been more different.
“How about we do Nancy first?” Trump said, offering House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi a pen that he’d used to sign a document so she’d have a souvenir from the day.
Next he turned to the top Senate Democrat, Charles Schumer of New York, a man he’s called a “clown” on his Twitter feed.
“Come on, Chuck,” Trump said with a laugh, urging him to take a pen, too.
In the first minutes after Trump’s swearing-in, the contradictory sides of the new president were on sharp display: There was Trump the outsider who spoke in the light rain about how “a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost.”
That was an echo of the Trump from the 2016 campaign, the angry and strident outsider who promised to sweep out the old order and “drain the swamp.”
Then came Trump the insider, joking with his political opponents, cosseted by the trappings of power. This was Trump the deal maker. Trump the CEO. Trump the billionaire who recognizes the importance of powerful relationships — relationships he will need in the coming months.
Inauguration Day was full of such conflicting moments, highlighting the puzzles that remain about Donald Trump: The country, and indeed the world, has little idea of which version of him will govern.
Is he the fire-breathing populist who will take a wrecking ball to institutions of government? Will he dismantle alliances that have kept the world’s biggest powers at peace for seven decades?
Or is he the back-slapping deal maker who will break through the partisan gridlock that has gripped Washington and push through legislation that could fix the country’s aging infrastructure and put blue-collar people back to work?
At one point during the day, Trump offered praise for his political opponent.
During his speech, Trump pointedly ignored Hillary Clinton, who sat stoically on the grandstand with her husband, former president Bill Clinton. The crowd gathered on the Mall booed every time a giant screen flashed her image. During the campaign, Trump stirred up strong feelings against Clinton, leading thousands of people in chants of “lock her up.”
But on Friday shortly after Trump’s speech, in a room full of congressional leaders, Trump asked the political elite to stand and clap for Hillary Clinton and her husband.
“I have a lot of respect for those two people,” Trump said, as he joined in the applause.
Hillary Clinton, who was seated with Trump’s family members, stood briefly and smiled.
She wore a white pantsuit and a white coat — a tribute to suffragists who wore the color as they agitated to win the right for women to vote. At every major moment during the 2016 presidential campaign, Clinton donned a white outfit, including when she became the first woman to be nominated for president from a major political party.
During the congressional lunch, Trump also played the salesman by keeping up his banter with Schumer, the Democratic leader who has threatened to use procedural measures to slow the confirmation of Trump’s Cabinet picks.
“Our Cabinet is lined up and ready,” Trump said. “I know eventually Chuck is going to approve them.” A few hours later, the Senate voted to confirm the first member, approving retired General James N. Mattis to be secretary of defense and retired General John F. Kelly to be secretary of homeland security.
As Trump takes over from President Obama, he’s replacing a leader who also was known for his oratory skills, but who also campaigned on his own version of change. Obama, though, had difficulties forging the relationships on Capitol Hill that ease the path to large and lasting legislative victories.
If Trump can establish meaningful ties with Democrats, while also keeping his own party in line, he could pass the sort of major legislation that has stalled in Washington for the last six years.
Trump has talked about offering health care for all Americans, a promise that goes well beyond his party’s plans to “repeal and replace’’ the Affordable Care Act and an initiative that would require Democratic votes.
He’s also talked about establishing paid leave for new families, another expensive program that conservatives would balk at, but Democrats want. He’s even floated using the government’s bargaining power to force drug companies to lower their costs — another idea that’s been blocked in the past by the GOP.
During the campaign, at times, Trump sounded like he was reading from Democratic talking points, especially as he criticized Wall Street and declared the American system of government “rigged.”
But he also rose to power questioning the legitimacy of Obama’s American citizenship. He’s suggested banning Muslims from entering the country and torturing the families of terrorists. And he’s insulted nearly every major group of people, including women, Hispanics, the disabled, veterans, and blacks.
Trump and Obama made a show of putting aside their differences Friday. They’ve spoken frequently during the transition, and Trump praised the president again during his inaugural address.
“We are grateful to President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama for their gracious aid throughout this transition,” Trump said. “They have been magnificent.”
The two couples drove together from the White House to the Capitol before the inauguration. In a good-will gesture, Melania Trump gave Michelle Obama a gift, in a blue Tiffany box.
Obama helped Trump into the presidential limo — known as the “beast’’ because it’s so heavily armored — playing host in the White House for the last time.
Later, after the inauguration, Trump guided Obama to a helicopter to take him to Joint Base Andrews, where he and his wife flew out to Palm Springs, Calif.
Melania Trump wore a powder-blue dress with a matching high collared jacket, similar to outfits worn by Jackie Kennedy Onassis.
The couple, along with their son, Barron, rode down Pennsylvania Avenue to their new home in the presidential limousine adorned with a new special inaugural license plate.
The plate was stamped: “1.”