Obama welcomed Trump to Washington a year ago. They haven’t spoken since.
A year since they last met, President Donald Trump and his predecessor, Barack Obama, haven’t spoken, the first time in decades two successive presidents have avoided communicating in the 12 months after handing off power.
Ties between presidents — if not always friendly — are usually at least existent. That Trump and Obama have avoided each other speaks to the unprecedented nature of the current White House, and the lingering animosity between two men who openly sparred during 2016’s presidential campaign.
Trump hasn’t shied away from blasting decisions Obama made during his tenure, and has steadily chipped away at key pieces of Obama’s legacy like the Paris climate accord and the Affordable Care Act. He’s also launched false personal attacks, claiming Obama ordered the phones tapped at Trump Tower or that Obama failed to call family members of slain US servicemen.
Obama, meanwhile, has reserved his criticism of Trump for policy matters. On the rare occasions he’s spoken publicly over the past year, he’s made only veiled references to the current Oval Office occupant.
The last time they spoke, Trump and Obama were standing on the East Front of the US Capitol as an idling military helicopter stood nearby. Moments after Trump was inaugurated, Obama appeared loose and smiling, his post-presidency life about to begin.
Behind at the White House, tucked into a drawer in the Oval Office, was the traditional note left by a president to his successor.
“Congratulations on a remarkable run,” Obama wrote. “Millions have placed their hopes in you, and all of us, regardless of party, should hope for expanded prosperity and security during your tenure.”
Trump was touched by the note, and tried to arrange a phone call with Obama, people familiar with the situation have said. But Obama was flying cross-country to Palm Springs and Trump couldn’t get through. When one of Obama’s aides reached back out to the White House to return the call, the new President’s staffers said Trump just wanted to say thank you for the note — and wanted Obama to get the message. The men never connected directly.
Since then, there have been no conversations or meetings between the two men — breaking a long line of first-year chats or sit-downs between incoming and outgoing presidents. Usually presidents rely on their predecessors for advice and counsel, even if their relationships are fraught with political differences or lingering electoral animosity. Sometimes they rely on them to carry out diplomatic functions in their stead.
Obama spoke on the phone with George W. Bush on February 27, 2009, to discuss his decision to withdraw some troops from Iraq. Bush encountered Bill Clinton on June 1, 2001, at a funeral in Boston. Clinton spoke with George H.W. Bush on September 15, 1993, at a White House ceremony for NAFTA. Bush Sr. spoke with Ronald Reagan — under whom he served as vice president — on April 26, 1989, during a meeting in Los Angeles.
Reagan spoke with Jimmy Carter on October 8, 1981, at the White House to discuss attending the funeral of slain Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat. Carter spoke with Gerald Ford on September 7, 1977, during a meeting at the White House. Ford spoke with Richard Nixon on November 1, 1974, at a hospital in Long Beach, California. And Nixon spoke with Lyndon B. Johnson at least twice before June 19, 1969, when Nixon said as much during a news conference.