WHITE HOUSE— Less than a month after the end of one of the most contentious election campaigns in U.S. history, one-time opponents, President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, have met for lunch. They are continuing a post-election American tradition aimed at fostering unity.
President Obama issued the lunch invitation shortly after Governor Romney made his concession speech on election night.
A few days later, the president told reporters he was interested in hearing his Republican former challenger’s ideas.
“There may be ideas that he has with respect to jobs and growth that can help middle-class families, that I want to hear," Obama said. "So I am not either pre-judging what he is interested in doing, nor am I suggesting I have got some specific assignment. But what I want to do is to get ideas from him and see if there are some ways we can potentially work together.”
The lunch meeting took place Thursday, behind closed doors.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has said there was no specific agenda for the meeting, and Obama was not planning any particular requests. The president had said that he wanted to hear Romney’s ideas on boosting the economy and making the government more efficient.
But Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, said before the meeting he did not expect any concrete policy decisions as a result.
“You can be sure that Mitt Romney will take the occasion to encourage the president to go in one or two particular directions, but I do not think this is really going to be a detailed discussion of public policy,” he said.
Carney said Wednesday the lunch invitation symbolizes the continuity of American democracy.
“It is one of the often-overlooked, but remarkable things about this democracy, this oldest democracy - that we consistently have elections, and without the kind of anguish and disruptions that you see in so many other countries around the world and that you have seen without history," he said. "And I think that it is entirely appropriate, and I know the president feels this way, to continue that tradition.”
Rothenberg agrees, saying the election was close enough that a show of unity would be helpful.
“I think this is one of the beauties of American politics and American government. This is the winner trying to be gracious, reaching out to the loser, understanding that in this case the loser got over 47 percent of the vote and it is time for the country to come together and heal and move on,” he said.
Over the past half-century many U.S. presidents have invited their defeated election opponents to meet at the White House. Very few of the meetings have resulted in a change in policy or a specific assignment for the election loser.