Protests raged in downtown Washington, D.C. The newly inaugurated President Donald Trump stood on a dais in the rain and attacked the members of Congress who surrounded him as “all talk and no action,” while many Democratic lawmakers stayed home.
But behind the scenes on Capitol Hill, all was well.
After his barn-burning speech, the president joined the vice president and members of Congress for a bipartisan congressional luncheon in the Capitol building. Accompanying them was former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
Addressing the crowd at the luncheon, President Trump asked Clinton to stand up.
“I was very honored when I heard President Bill Clinton and Secretary Hillary Clinton was coming today,” Trump said. “There’s nothing more I can say, because I have a lot of respect for those two people.”
“Thank you,” mouthed Clinton as she received a standing ovation.
Senators and representatives chatted and joked. President Trump laughed with ranking House and Senate leadership. The cavorting was Washington on display: public condemnation followed by backroom negotiating and friendships. It is a style to which Trump himself is well-accustomed.
John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, sat near Clinton during the luncheon, and the two spoke about the election and expressed their wishes for a less combative coming year. “I congratulated her and said thank you for being here and showing some real class,” Cornyn said afterward.
Clinton told the table, which also included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, that she hoped politics would be less divisive after the election. “It was an enjoyable lunch,” Cornyn said.
After lunch, Trump, surrounded by top ranking members of the Senate and House, signed a first bill into law which allows retired Marine Corps general James Mattis to serve as the Secretary of Defense, as well as papers to make his Cabinet nominations official.
President Trump and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the top-ranking Democrat, joked about who would receive the pens after Trump signed the official cabinet papers. “Betsy [DeVos], education [secretary],” said Trump, offering up his pen. “I thought Chuck wanted it.”
“No, thank you Mr. President,” Schumer said.
“This is a rough group, isn’t it?” said Trump.
Senators on both sides of the aisle have longstanding relationships. Schumer and Trump have often crossed paths in New York City, and Trump had been a significant donor to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee when Schumer was in charge in 2008.
On the Senate floor members slapped one another on the back. Schumer, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Cornyn spoke quietly. Democrats voted with Republicans to confirm two Cabinet members, Mattis as defense secretary and Gen. John Kelly as Homeland Security secretary.
“There’s no bristling and there’s no tantrums,” said Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi shortly after the luncheon with Trump. “We’re going to be just fine. Cousin Chuck is going to be all right by 7:30 tonight.”
Democrats and Republicans are gearing up for a bloody fight over the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Republicans have vowed to kill the law but have not agreed on how to do it without causing chaos in the insurance markets, while Democrats are warning Republicans not to repeal former President Obama’s signature legislation.
Schumer has slow-walked Trump’s Cabinet hearings, saying that many of the nominees have not submitted the proper paperwork proving they do not have conflicts of interest. Democrats have been aiming to hurt Trump early in his presidency by targeting Cabinet nominees like Rep. Tom Price, nominee for Health and Human Services Secretary, who held stocks in companies he regulated, and Rep. Mick Mulvaney, nominee to lead the Office of Management and Budget, who did not pay taxes on a household employee, among others.
Outside, Trump supporters said they didn’t want an ideological president or to see a traditional rehash of fights between left and right.
“I believe Trump is a practical person. He sits and looks at the situation around him,” said Mark Bailey, an assistant principle from Harlan County, Kentucky who had come to watch the inauguration. “Look and see what works and make it work.”