WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney and President Obama dined together at the White House on Thursday afternoon, attempting to heal campaign wounds over a lunch of white turkey chili and Southwestern grilled chicken salad.
“Governor Romney congratulated the president for the success of his campaign and wished him well over the coming four years,” the White House said in a five-sentence summary. “The focus of their discussion was on America’s leadership in the world and the importance of maintaining that leadership position in the future.”
According to the White House, the two former rivals also “pledged to stay in touch, particularly if opportunities to work together on shared interests arise in the future.”
Adding perhaps another bit of odd closure to the meeting, Romney launched his campaign by serving large helpings of Ann Romney’s turkey chili to supporters as he launched his campaign in New Hampshire; on Thursday, it was Obama’s turkey chili that was served to him inside the White House.
The two were together about 70 minutes, and both sides tried to keep low any expectations of news. Romney entered using a side door, with photographers using long lenses to capture him in the brief seconds he was visible.
Several minutes later, White House press secretary Jay Carney began a briefing at which he was asked whether there would be a joint appearance by the two men.
“Ahhhh,” Carney said. “No.”
The White House rejected appeals to open up a portion of the meeting to the news media, and the two men dined alone, with no aides present.
“Each man wanted to have a private conversation,” Carney said. “They did not want to turn it into a press event.”
Carney said the men would probably compare experiences on the campaign trail, something few people can relate to. But he said several times that Obama had no plans to offer Romney any position or role in his administration.
“This is a conversation the president wanted to have with Governor Romney,” Carney said. “There was not an agenda that involves that kind of proposal that I’m aware of. He’s very interested in some of Governor Romney’s ideas.”
A senior Romney adviser said Obama and Romney had a conversation that spanned global hot spots, and their respective thoughts on innovation and the economy. The adviser, who along with other top officials of the Obama and Romney campaigns was attending a day-long meeting in Cambridge with Harvard students organized by the Kennedy School of Government’s Institute of Politics, said that Romney felt it was particularly important for the country to see the two candidates united after the sometimes acrimonious election campaign.
The adviser, who requested anonymity to speak frankly, said Romney has never expressed any interest in a government role other than an elected position, and would more likely turn his attention to charitable or other civic works. The Kennedy School event was to include a public forum that was canceled because of the power outage in the city.
After the lunch, Obama and Romney went into the nearby Oval Office.In a photo later released by the White House, the two are shaking hands. Romney is smiling tightly, Obama appears to be in mid-sentence, and nothing — except a black binder — is visible on Obama’s large wooden desk.
Before his lunch at the White House, Romney met for about 90 minutes at a Washington hotel with his former running mate, Paul Ryan.
“I remain grateful to Governor Romney for the honor of joining his ticket this fall, and I cherish our friendship,” Ryan said in a statement after the meeting. “I’m proud of the principles and ideas we advanced during the campaign and the commitment we share to expanding opportunity and promoting economic security for American families.”
As Romney’s car arrived at a secure checkpoint near the White House, a man interfered with the motorcade, according to the Associated Press. The man, who was not identified, was later arrested when he became combative during an interview with a police officer.