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Obama, Romney to meet for lunch at White House

Private huddle closed to the press

Mitt Romney will have a private lunch with President Obama at the White House on Thursday, their first meeting since the Republican nominee lost the election to the incumbent Nov. 6.

The White House revealed Wednesday that the men will have lunch in the private dining room of the White House. It will be their first extensive meeting ever; other than their three debates during the fall campaign, Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney have had only a few brief encounters.

"It will be the first opportunity they have had to visit since the election," the White House said in a statement. "There will be no press coverage of the meeting."

Mr. Obama said at his first postelection news conference Nov. 14 that he hoped to meet with Mr. Romney to "see if there are some ways that we can potentially work together." He praised the former Massachusetts governor's success in turning around the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, as well as his proposals to make government more efficient.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the lunch meeting came together at Mr. Obama's request. He also noted the two men share a desire to help streamline government, citing Mr. Obama's 2011 request for Congress to reinstate presidential authority to reorganize and consolidate the federal government.

"[The president] looks forward to having this meeting with Gov. Romney. It will be a private lunch — only the two men will be in the room," Mr. Carney said, deflecting requests from the press to open at least part of the lunch to the media. "I'm sure it will be a useful discussion."

The president does not plan to ask Mr. Romney for anything specific, said Mr. Carney, who also shot down any notion that Mr. Obama would offer his former opponent a formal or informal position in the president's second term.

Since the acrimonious debates late in the campaign, the two men have exchanged repeated jabs — even after the election — prompting questions from reporters about Mr. Obama's feelings about Mr. Romney going into Thursday's one-on-one lunch meeting.

"Well, he's happy about the election's outcome, if that's what you mean," Mr. Carney joked.

A few days after the election, Mr. Romney in a phone call with supporters blamed his loss in part on "gifts" that the president had bestowed on key constituencies.

"With regards to the young people, for instance, a forgiveness of college loan interest was a big gift," Mr. Romney said. "Free contraceptives were very big with young, college-aged women. And then, finally: Obamacare also made a difference for them, because as you know, anybody now 26 years of age and younger was now going to be part of their parents' plan, and that was a big gift to young people. They turned out in large numbers, a larger share in this election even than in 2008."

Many Republican officials, such as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, rebuked Mr. Romney for his comments and said the GOP needs to focus on being more inclusive.

Presidents sitting down in a private meeting with their opponents after the election is a tradition, Mr. Carney said, and one that Mr. Obama wanted to honor.

"One of the remarkable things about this democracy is that we consistently have elections and either pass power on to the new leader or else choose a new leader because voters chose without violence and without the kind of anguish and distortion that you see in so many countries around the world," he said. "And we feel that it's entirely appropriate — and the president feels this — to continue this tradition."

While in Washington, Mr. Romney also reportedly will visit with his former running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who is heavily involved in the GOP's negotiations with the Obama administration to resolve the government's "fiscal cliff" of looming tax hikes and spending cuts.

Since the election, Mr. Romney has secluded himself from the media at his Southern California home, making no public appearances, but has been photographed filling his car at a local gas station and taking a day trip with his grandchildren to nearby Disneyland.

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