Julie Pace and Steve Peoples
WASHINGTON: Three weeks after the election, Mitt Romney made it to the White House.
For about 90 minutes. After an odd arrival in which a man rushed his SUV and ended up getting arrested by the Secret Service.
It wasn’t the start of a term as Romney had envisioned. But it was, at least, all on good terms with the man who defeated him, President Barack Obama.
Over a private lunch Thursday, Obama and Romney had some white turkey chili, Southwestern grilled chicken salad and — from the reports of it — the kind of actual conversation that never happens while two presidential nominees are bashing each other’s ideas during a campaign.
They shook hands in the Oval Office. They spoke of American leadership in the world. They pledged to keep in touch. Maybe even work together.
All that, at least, according to a White House statement about what happened behind closed doors. The two men themselves never faced reporters.
“Each man wanted to have a private conversation,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney. “They didn’t want to turn it into a press event.”
Much has happened already in American politics since the Nov. 6 election, when voters ended a fierce presidential race by choosing Obama in convincing fashion.
Romney, who has largely disappeared from the public eye in the weeks following the election, is among those who have opined on why he lost, telling donors Obama won by giving “gifts” to groups like Latinos, blacks and young voters.
Carney said that comment, widely panned as disparaging by leaders of both parties, did not hang over the postelection meeting of the two men.
The spokesman underscored Obama’s interest in listening to Romney’s ideas.
“Gov. Romney congratulated the president for the success of his campaign and wished him well over the coming four years,” the White House statement said.
And this: “They pledged to stay in touch, particularly if opportunities to work together on shared interests arise.”
Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom agreed that it was a “very friendly lunch” between two men who spoke about the big challenges facing the nation.