WASHINGTON — Donald Trump and John Roberts are not likely to rehash Trump’s criticism of the chief justice when they meet outside the Capitol at noon.
Instead, they will take part in a venerable pas de deux of American political life. A Bible between them, Roberts will administer the presidential oath, the two men will shake hands and Roberts will, for the time being, recede into the background.
Roberts and the rest of the Supreme Court probably will be called on to review Trump’s major undertakings as president. Trump could need Roberts’ vote on matters ranging from immigration to health care to environmental regulations.
Will it matter that in the course of the campaign, Trump referred to Roberts as “an absolute disaster” and “disgraceful,” mainly for Roberts’ two votes in defense of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul? The pointed criticism of a justice by name was only one in a long list of unusual aspects of Trump’s campaign for the presidency.
The two men met briefly on Thursday to discuss details of the swearing-in, Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said.
This will be the third presidential inaugural for the 61-year-old Roberts, having sworn in Obama twice. In 2009, Roberts and Obama combined to bungle the oath, necessitating a do-over the next day.
While a senator, Obama voted against Roberts’ confirmation as chief justice. And the president was himself critical of the court’s conservative majority for its Citizen United decision in 2010 that relaxed campaign spending rules, but he never singled out Roberts.
Trump did, and he attached less-than-lofty motivations to Roberts’ actions. “What he did with Obamacare was disgraceful, and I think he did that because he wanted to be popular inside the Beltway,” Trump said in Aiken, South Carolina, in December 2015, referring to greater Washington.
A month later, in an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, Trump again referred to the health care decisions when he said, “Justice Roberts turned out to be an absolute disaster.”
Eight years ago, Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden visited the Supreme Court shortly before the inauguration, at Roberts’ invitation. At the time, Roberts said his hope was that “the sporadic practice become a congenial tradition.” Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton stopped in before they took the oath of office.
No similar visit took place this year because of scheduling problems, although Roberts extended an invitation, Arberg said.