Obama and Trump haven’t talked since inauguration
Lines of communication between President Trump and former President Barack Obama have gone dark.
The two men haven’t spoken since Inauguration Day, sources tell The Hill, a drastic turn since their string of phone calls and pleasantries during the presidential transition.
Trump and Obama — with their vastly different styles and personalities — were never likely to be friends. But the former president, perhaps hoping to preserve some influence with his surprise successor, vowed to have a cordial relationship with the 45th president when he left office.
Since then, Trump has sought to repeal his predecessor’s signature healthcare legislation while overhauling his regulatory agenda. He’s ordered a travel ban on people from six predominantly Muslim countries — a proposal Obama opposes.
And earlier this month, he accused Obama of tapping his phones last year.
That allegation by Trump, declared false by FBI Director James Comey on Monday, left Obama annoyed. “It’s ridiculous,” he told people close to him. He wanted to correct the record, triggering a rare statement from his spokesman, Kevin Lewis.
“He wasn’t thrilled,” said one official close to Obama.
“When it impacts the integrity of the White House and the office of the president, that’s concerning to him,” a second source close to Obama said.
The wiretapping allegation took another turn on Wednesday, when House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) made waves by telling the media and Trump that U.S. intelligence agencies incidentally collected information on Trump’s transition team and disseminated it widely.
Nunes’s briefing resulted in Trump telling reporters that he felt “somewhat” vindicated, a statement that is sure to prolong a story that began on March 4 — and that might get under Obama’s skin.
While Obama and Trump haven’t talked since Inauguration Day, they did try to get in touch early in Trump’s presidency.
First, Trump called his predecessor in late January, but Obama was on a cross-country flight at the time, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Sources tell The Hill that Obama tried to return the call with an assistant, who sought to connect the two men.
A Trump aide at the White House told the Obama assistant that Trump had simply called to thank his predecessor for the kind note he left him in the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office.
“Can you relay that message to President Obama?” the president’s aide said.
The message was passed along, and the two leaders never attempted to reconnect, sources said.
Jen Psaki, a longtime Obama aide who served as his communications director in his final months in office, said Wednesday in an interview that the “understanding” of the Trump-Obama relationship was always “over-cranked.”
Obama “conducted a smooth transition, and that’s what his focus was on. But that doesn’t mean they were going to become golf buddies,” Psaki said.
The Hill talked to half a dozen former aides and others in Obama’s orbit to ask about the former president’s relationship with his successor.
Those close to Obama say he is doing what he’s always said he would do after his presidency: returning to life as a private citizen.
While they say Obama may make public statements from time to time, he wants to give room for other Democrats to find their way.
“At the end of the day, he’s a former president — he’s not the face of resistance,” said one source close to Obama.
“It’s time for new voices in the party,” Psaki said.
Obama, who recently signed a lucrative book deal with Penguin Random House, has spent much of his time focused on his foundation in Chicago. He has also been enjoying some down time: He and former first lady Michelle Obama recently toured the National Gallery in Washington and had lunch in New York with U2 lead singer Bono. He was spotted taking in the Broadway show “The Price” with his elder daughter, Malia.
This month, the former president has also retreated to French Polynesia, where he will stay for a few weeks, according to numerous reports.
Then-candidate Obama harshly criticized former President George W. Bush and his administration during the 2008 presidential race, but Bush did not return the fire after he left Washington.
Bush’s example appeared to leave a mark on Obama, who frequently cited the Bush team’s help in the 2009 transition as an example he wanted his staff to follow in 2017.
In the case of Trump and Obama, it is the current president who is firing at the former commander in chief, who has been relatively silent in response.
Trump initially had nice things to say about Obama.
After the two met in November just two days after Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton, Trump described it on Twitter as a “really good meeting,” saying the two had “great chemistry.”
But Trump has since reversed course.
“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” Trump wrote on Twitter earlier this month.
A few days later, he took to Twitter again to blast Obama’s policies on Guantanamo Bay, writing, “122 vicious prisoners, released by the Obama Administration from Gitmo, have returned to the battlefield. Just another terrible decision,” he wrote.
More recently, Trump has taken to ripping Obama’s healthcare legislation as the GOP Congress moves to repeal and replace it.
Only a few dozen people have ever held the U.S. presidency, making Obama and Trump members of one of the nation’s most elite clubs.
That’s made Trump’s accusations about Obama tapping his phones all the more remarkable.
Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, said tension between presidents is normal when real policies are on the table.
But he added of Trump and Obama, “This is clearly worse than what we usually see.”
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