President Barack Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney met for lunch at the White House on Thursday, their first face-to-face meeting since the bitter election campaign in which each man basically warned voters that the other risked destroying the economy. A syrupy White House statement released after the meal said they had discussed America's global leadership role and agreed on their desire to stay in touch. Maybe.
Romney arrived one minute early for the 12:30 p.m. lunch, walking into the West Wing through a side entrance a safe distance from the press. He walked out the same way at 1:43 p.m., even as Obama's press secretary Jay Carney gave only meager details of what he insisted was a "private" get-together between the president and his defeated Republican rival.
Romney "congratulated the president for the success of his campaign and wished him well over the coming four years," according to the White House account of the meal. "The focus of their discussion was on America's leadership in the world and the importance of maintaining that leadership position in the future.
"They pledged to stay in touch, particularly if opportunities to work together on shared interests arise in the future," the statement said.
The lunch menu included white turkey chili and Southwestern grilled chicken salad.
The White House barred reporters from the event, but released an official photo showing Obama giving Romney a tour of the Oval Office.
Carney, briefing reporters while the lunch was going on, predicted that the two men would compare experiences from the campaign trail. "There aren't that many people who have run, been nominees for their party. There aren't that many people you can talk to who know what it's like."
Obama is "very interested in some of Gov. Romney's ideas," Carney insisted. But, when pressed, he would highlight only the Republican's widely praised rescue of the Salt Lake City Olympics and say that Obama hoped to apply Romney's know-how to his own efforts to make government more efficient.
That's a skill set, not an idea, one reporter pointed out. So are there actually ideas of Romney's that the president always either supported or opposed in the campaign but is now rethinking?
"There were certainly things that the two men agreed on" during the campaign, Carney said. "I wouldn't say it was the majority of things. It wasn't."
Still, Carney pointed to the three presidential debates and underlined that the erstwhile rivals had frequently professed to agree with each other.
He's right. Here's a sample of some of those moments. Note that some of the "agreements" are tactical attempts to score political points rather than any sincere assertion of commonality of purpose.
From the first debate:
Obama: "Gov. Romney and I both agree that our corporate tax rate is too high."
"I agree that the Democratic legislators in Massachusetts might have given some advice to Republicans in Congress about how to cooperate."
Romney: "I agree, education is key, particularly the future of our economy."
"We agree; we ought to bring the tax rates down, and I do, both for corporations and for individuals."
"Let's come back to something the president (and) I agree on, which is the key task we have in health care is to get the costs down so it's more affordable for families."
Or this exchange:
Obama: "One of the things I suspect Gov. Romney and I probably agree on is getting businesses to work with community colleges so that they're setting up their training programs ..."
Moderator Jim Lehrer: "Do you agree, Governor?"
Obama: "Let—let—let me just finish the point."
Romney: "Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah."
Or this one:
Lehrer: "Can the two of you agree that the voters have a choice, a clear choice, between the two of you?"