WASHINGTON - Bitter campaign foes just weeks ago, President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney met for lunch at the White House on Thursday, sitting down with an eye on overlapping interests rather than the sharp differences that defined their presidential contest.
In their first meeting since the election, Obama and the Republican nominee met in the White House's private dining room, fulfilling a promise Obama made in his victory speech the night of Nov. 6.
Romney arrived at the White House early Thursday afternoon in a black SUV. He stepped out of the passenger side and walked into the West Wing alone.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama had no specific agenda for the meeting, but he said the president wanted to discuss Romney's ideas for making government more efficient. Obama has proposed merging some functions of government related to business and has asked Congress for authority to undertake some executive branch reorganization.
"The president noted that Gov. Romney did a terrific job running the Olympics and that that skills set lends itself to ideas that could make the federal government work better, which is a passion of the president's," Carney said.
Obama aides said they reached out to Romney's team shortly before Thanksgiving to start working on a date for the meeting. The two men were meeting alone in the White House's private dining room, with no press coverage expected.
For Romney, it was a day of closure after a hard-fought campaign.
Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman who was his vice presidential running mate, met earlier in the day to talk about the pending fiscal cliff negotiations and other economic challenges facing Washington, a Ryan aide said. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the aide was not authorized to discuss the private discussions.
On a personal level, the pair discussed their families and talked about the harried 12 weeks of the general election campaign.
"I remain grateful to Gov. Romney for the honor of joining his ticket this fall, and I cherish our friendship," Ryan said in a statement after their 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."
Much of that debate centers on expiring tax cuts first enacted in the George W. Bush administration. Obama and Romney differed sharply during the campaign over what to do with the cuts, with the Republican pushing for them to be extended for all income earners and the president running on a pledge to let the cuts expire for families making more than $250,000 a year.
The White House sees Obama's victory as a signal that Americans support his tax proposals.
Obama and Romney's sit-down Thursday was expected to be their most extensive private meeting to date. The two men had only a handful of brief exchanges before the 2012 election.
Even after their political fates became intertwined, their interactions were largely confined to the three presidential debates.
Romney has virtually disappeared from politics following his election loss. He's spent the past three weeks largely in seclusion at his family's Southern California home. He has made no public appearances, drawing media attention only after being photographed at Disneyland in addition to stops at the movies and the gym with his wife, Ann.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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