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.’’
Romney was driven to the side door of the White House in a black Lincoln Navigator, but he opened his own car door and stepped out alone. He was within eyesight of a stage being built for the inauguration, but it was for President Obama’s, not his.
In what has become a painfully awkward ritual, Romney showed up on Thursday at the White House as a guest of President Obama, who defeated him just over three weeks ago.
Ever punctual, Romney arrived one minute before scheduled. As the former presidential hopeful entered the White House he seemed to have a slight smile on his face.
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.
Romney’s aides did not immediately comment on the meeting.
The two were together about 70 minutes, and both sides tried to keep low any expectations of news. Romney entered 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 several 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 likely compare their experiences on the campaign trail, something few people can relate to. But he said several times that the president 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.’’
After the lunch, Obama and Romney went into the nearby Oval Office, a space that Romney had once hoped to occupy. 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, Representative 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 following 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.
Video footage from CNN captured the man briefly heckling Romney as the vehicle passed through the gates to the White House.