IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Donald Trump left a note for Joe Biden to continue presidential tradition

Trump continued an Inauguration Day custom by leaving a personal notes to his successor. The tradition dates back to at least the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan handed off power to George H.W. Bush.
/ Source: TODAY

President Donald Trump broke with a number of traditions during the transition to Joe Biden's presidency, but he appears to have participated in one recent custom on his way out of office.

The outgoing president left a handwritten note to his successor on Wednesday as Joe Biden was set to be sworn in as the nation's 46th president, continuing a cordial tradition that goes back to at least the 1980s.

President Trump left behind a personal note for Joe Biden, as the last five presidents have done for their successors.
President Trump left behind a personal note for Joe Biden, as the last five presidents have done for their successors. Getty Images

White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere told NBC News White House correspondent Monica Alba Wednesday that Trump did leave a note for Biden, continuing a tradition that at least five prior presidents have taken part in since the administration of Ronald Reagan.

The note was left in the Oval Office by an aide, an administration source said.

Later Wednesday evening, as Biden signed his first executive orders as president, he responded to a question from the press about the letter.

"The president (Trump) wrote a very generous letter," Biden said. "Because it was private I will not talk about it until I talk to him, but um, it was generous."

Separately, former Vice President Mike Pence also left a note for his successor, Vice President Kamala Harris, according to a White House official.

The decision to leave the note comes after Trump became the first president to announce he would not attend his successor's inauguration since Andrew Johnson in 1869. Trump did not call to congratulate Biden after the election, and he did not mention him by name in a farewell video he released on Tuesday or an address at Joint Base Andrews on Wednesday morning.

Trump's decision to leave the note comes four years after he was the recipient of a handwritten note from former President Barack Obama in 2017, who congratulated him and offered four points of advice.

“This is a unique office, without a clear blueprint for success, so I don’t know that any advice from me will be particularly helpful,” Obama wrote, according to CNN. “Still, let me offer a few reflections from the past 8 years.”

Trump called the note a “beautiful letter” in a press conference two days after receiving it.

As Trump refused to concede the election in the last two months, a letter written by incumbent President George H.W. Bush to successor Bill Clinton in 1993 has been held up as an example of grace in defeat. Trump is the first incumbent president to be defeated in his reelection bid since Bush in 1992.

Former first lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shared the letter from Bush on Instagram on Nov. 10, writing, "Here's how it's done in America."

"When I walked into this office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago," Bush wrote. "I know you will feel that, too."

TODAY's Jenna Bush Hager, the granddaughter of George H.W. Bush, reflected on the note in November, saying her grandfather wrote it out of "a love and respect for our country."

"No matter who you voted for, it's not about that," she said. "It's not about the political parties or the one man that sits at that office."

According to The Washington Post, the tradition began in 1989 when Reagan left a note for Bush, who had served as his vice president.

In 2009, Jenna's father, former president George W. Bush, left a note for Obama as he began his first term.

"There will be trying moments," he wrote, according to the Post. "The critics will rage. Your 'friends' will disappoint you. But, you will have an Almighty God to comfort you, a family who loves you, and a country that is pulling for you, including me. No matter what comes, you will be inspired by the character and compassion of the people you now lead."

EDITOR'S NOTE (Jan. 30, 5:40 p.m. ET): This story has been updated to include President Joe Biden's Wednesday evening comments about the letter Trump left for him.