Agendas at odds, Obama and Trump aides work to make nice

First lady on Trump: We'll help in any way
First lady on Trump: We'll help in any way

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Story highlights

  • Valerie Jarrett and Donald Trump aide Kellyanne Conway had a two-hour lunch Wednesday
  • President Barack Obama and Trump have fostered a phone relationship that's weathered bumps

Washington (CNN)Staffs for the incoming and outgoing administrations are forging what both sides describe as effective, even sometimes warm, working relationships in the weeks before Inauguration Day, even as their visions for the country remain deeply at odds.

Over lunch, in West Wing meetings and in phone calls and emails, aides to President Barack Obama and his successor, Donald Trump, are hashing out the complicated logistics of transferring the federal government between the two who seem at odds on about nearly every political issue.
Aides on both sides characterize the affable spirit as a necessity to an effective transition. Without ample and direct communication between teams, essential information about operating the vast federal machinery could be lost.
    Sharing advice on more personal topics, like how to balance family and the grind of a high-level administration post, has also helped foster ties between the current and future White Houses. Despite the drawn faces and tears from Obama's staff on the day after the election, most have concluded that helping their counterparts succeed remains a critical duty.
    Obama and Trump themselves have fostered a phone relationship that's weathered bumps in the two months since Election Day. Even after Trump suggested in a tweet the transition was being hampered by Obama administration "roadblocks," the two men appeared to smooth things out during a phone call.
    In a two-hour meeting over lunch on Wednesday, Trump's incoming senior counselor Kellyanne Conway discussed balancing work and family with Obama's outgoing senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, according to a person with knowledge of the session.
    They also discussed how to confront the public scrutiny that senior level White House staffers, particularly women, have faced. Conway and Jarrett both occupy critical "whisperer" roles to Trump and Obama; like Jarrett, Conway is expected to carry outsized influence in the West Wing, with access and oversight that goes well beyond a set of policy areas.
    Conway came away feeling warmly toward Jarrett, according to another source familiar with the two women's meeting. A third described their interactions as "warm" and "cordial."
    "President Obama's senior staff and our senior staff are working very well together," Conway told CNN last week.
    Despite deep differences on policy and style, current and former White House aides describe a certain level of apolitical camaraderie among those who have held positions in the West Wing. For most operatives, a posting steps from the Oval Office remains the pinnacle of a political career, despite its grueling hours and relatively modest pay.
    Presidential transitions haven't always been rosy; when George W. Bush's staff moved into their offices in January 2001, the outgoing aides to President Bill Clinton had removed some of the Ws from the computer keyboards.
    The shift from Bush to Obama was easier, and Obama's team has lauded the previous Republican administration for their helpfulness in preparing them to govern.
    "Getting to work at the White House is a genuine honor," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday.
    A day earlier, Earnest and the White House communications director Jen Psaki conferred for several hours in their West Wing offices with Sean Spicer, who's been tapped to perform both roles in Trump's administration.
    Despite both performing high-level communications jobs in Washington for years, Earnest said it was the first time he'd spoken in-depth with the man who will replace him in a matter of weeks.
    "We had a long conversation about what it's like to work at the White House. And we certainly talked about some of the complicated logistics of working in this environment, but we also talked a little bit about the approach to the job that Jen and I have taken in fulfilling our roles at this White House," Earnest said.
    Last month, the outgoing chief of staff Denis McDonough organized a meeting between former top presidential aides and the incoming chief of staff Reince Priebus in his West Wing conference room, a tradition begun during the waning days of Bush's administration.
    McDonough also counseled Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner in the days immediately following November's election. Kushner, who is expected to play an important role in Trump's White House, was seen strolling in conversation with McDonough around the South Lawn as Obama and Trump met in the Oval Office.
    Even for jobs not directly responsible for the running of the federal government, the Trump and Obama teams have worked to facilitate the January 20 handoff. Trump's team has worked with Tina Tchen, chief of staff to first lady Michelle Obama, for a transfer of East Wing responsibilities, including official White House correspondence.
    The White House ushers and curators have begun working with Trump's support staff on personalizing the White House residence, along with the East and West Wings, for Trump.
    Even the White House swing set, positioned outside the Oval Office windows, became a matter of conversation for the two teams. After the Trump family declined the White House's offer to leave the swings for visiting grandchildren, the wooden set erected in 2009 was donated to a local charity this month.