He was supposed to retire to a triumphant post-presidency. Then Trump happened. Now, as Jason Zengerle reports, Obama is gearing up for a political battle he never planned to wage—and has no intention of losing.
The day after Donald Trump’s election, the morning dawned with a drizzle in Washington, D.C. And at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, a few dozen White House staffers crowded into the West Wing office of Josh Earnest, President Obama’s press secretary.
They were a bleary-eyed bunch—from both lack of sleep and an excess of trauma—struggling still to grasp the historic surprise of Trump’s win only hours earlier. Earnest tried his best to raise their spirits, reminding the aides that they all still had jobs to do, that they needed to “run through the tape.” He was in the middle of his pep talk when word came that the group was wanted down the hall. Barack Obama had summoned them to his office.
The team trudged through the White House corridor, including in their ranks a number of junior members who’d never been to the Oval Office before, much less met Obama. They filed in, lined the perimeter wall, and turned their eyes toward the president, who stood in front of the Resolute desk along with Vice President Joe Biden. Obama had been up late the night before, too, watching the election results. Around three o’clock in the morning, he’d placed phone calls to both Hillary Clinton and Trump. But Obama evinced neither fatigue nor despair. Instead, he projected an energized sense of calm.
“This is not the apocalypse,” Obama told the staffers. He reminded them that despite the election results, the majority of Americans supported the work they’d done. And he pointed out that the country had previously weathered periods during which there had been leaders and presidents of whom people had been fearful. America had survived, he said, because it’s a strong country. History, he went on, “zigs and zags.” Obama walked around the office, shaking his staffers’ hands and thanking them for their efforts. To those who were crying, he offered hugs.