US PRESIDENT BARACK Obama will host his defeated Republican foe Mitt Romney for a conciliatory private lunch at the White House this afternoon in their first encounter since a bitter election.
Obama’s press secretary Jay Carney said the meeting would take place in the president’s private dining room next to the Oval Office and would be closed to the press.
“It will be the first opportunity they have had to visit since the election,” Carney said, later adding that the two men would be alone in the room.
The encounter will likely be a testing personal moment for the former Massachusetts governor, who was convinced even on election day that he would be the 45th US president, but was outwitted by Obama’s political machine.
Neither Romney nor Obama appeared to have any warmth, or even great respect for one another, in a campaign which flared into open dislike during their contentious three presidential debates last month.
“Elections are serious business, and they tend to represent a clash of ideas, and they’re hard-fought and certainly no different this time than it has been in every election,” Carney said.
The president has in the past appeared magnanimous to former foes, notably when he asked Hillary Clinton – whom he defeated in a Democratic primary – to join his “team of rivals” first-term cabinet as secretary of state.
It is unclear whether the meeting is just for appearances’ sake as he seeks to heal political wounds of a divisive election or if he has any specific task in mind for Romney and, if he did, whether the Republican would accept.
Obama said in his first post-election press conference earlier this month that, despite an acrimonious campaign that saw his team assail the Republican’s character, he hoped to work with Romney on some issues.
“There are certain aspects of Governor Romney’s record and his ideas that I think could be very helpful,” Obama said on 14 November, adding that Romney had done a “terrific job” running the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002.
“He presented some ideas during the course of the campaign that I actually agree with. So it would be interesting to talk to him about something like that,” he said.
“There may be ideas that he has with respect to jobs and growth that can help middle-class families that I want to hear.”
“I’m not either prejudging what he’s interested in doing, nor am I suggesting I’ve got some specific assignment.”
Romney, however, was less conciliatory as he digested the fierce disappointment of losing the presidential election on 6 November.
He accused Obama of following the “old playbook” by bestowing favors on key Democratic constituencies in exchange for their support.
“In each case they were very generous in what they gave to those groups,” he said in a phone call with his national finance committee.
“With regards to the young people, for instance, a forgiveness of college loan interest was a big gift.”
Romney’s post-mortem, reported by the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, echoed controversial remarks he made to donors at a private fundraiser, denigrating the “47 percent” of US voters who he said pay no income tax.
Romney told the donors that Obama “made a big effort on small things,” while his own campaign had been about “big issues.”