Obama and Romney lunch together at the White House
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WASHINGTON -- At long last, Mitt Romney made it to the White House on Thursday, though not in the way he once imagined.
The defeated Republican presidential nominee was driven up in a black sport-utility vehicle, greeted outside the gate by a heckler who yelled at him through the passenger-side window. Mr. Romney opened his own door. He disappeared into the West Wing through a side entrance.
President Barack Obama was waiting for him, playing host to his election rival in a one-on-one luncheon in the presidential dining room. There was no pomp and little circumstance, at least publicly, with reporters and photographers barred from the hour-long event.
"Each man wanted to have a private conversation," White House press secretary Jay Carney said when asked why the news media was not allowed to witness the lunch. "They did not want to turn it into a press event."
The White House press corps had other ideas, intent on documenting a moment that Mr. Carney had touted just a day earlier as a symbol of the nation's peaceful democratic electoral process.
Reporters staking out Mr. Romney could barely see his arrival, kept 100 yards away near the North Lawn. Photographers, standing on ladders to get a view over a row of shoulder-high shrubs, captured only grainy images through their high-powered telephoto lenses.
Mr. Romney had arrived after meeting with his former running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., on Capitol Hill, where they had discussed ways to resolve the nation's fiscal and economic challenges.
Mr. Romney was wearing a sober blue suit and striped tie, his hair slicked back into the familiar style that looked so disheveled shortly after the election in a now infamous snapshot of him pumping his own gas.
That was the last reporters saw of the former Massachusetts governor until White House staff photographer Pete Souza posted a photo Thursday on the administration's Flickr page of Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney shaking hands in the middle of the Oval Office.
In the picture, the two men are looking into each other's eyes, their right hands engaged in a firm grip. The door is decked out in festive red-and-green holiday bunting and a distinguished portrait of Abraham Lincoln looks on from the wall.
There had been some speculation among pundits that Mr. Obama might offer Mr. Romney a role in his administration, but Mr. Carney dismissed that idea.
"This was a conversation the president wanted to have with Governor Romney, as he mentioned the night of the election. There was not an agenda involved," the spokesman said.
Pressed repeatedly by reporters to release some information about the lunch, the White House eventually issued a one-paragraph statement reporting that Mr. Romney congratulated Mr. Obama on his victory and wished him well.
Mr. Romney, who had derided Mr. Obama during the campaign for what he called a worldwide "apology tour" that demeaned the United States, discussed "America's leadership in the world and the importance of maintaining that leadership position in the future," the statement said.
Neither Mr. Romney nor his former campaign said anything about the meeting at all. He left the White House after about 70 minutes, spirited away in the black Lincoln Navigator as workers out front were busy constructing the stage and bleachers on Pennsylvania Avenue for Mr. Obama's second inauguration in late January.
"They pledged to stay in touch," the White House said.
First Published November 30, 2012 12:00 am